A Prayer For Gospel-Transformation – Ephesians 3:14-19

A Prayer For Gospel-Transformation

Nick Esch, 7/7/2019 Cornerstone Baptist Church

Introduction

Have you ever tried to help someone who was nearly impossible to help? For instance, let’s say this person’s lifestyle is harming them or making them sick, and if they would take the right medicine, diet properly, and get rid of some of their bad habits they’d be ok… But, no matter what they are told it’s like they have no self-control at all. They say they want to get better and do better, but they always seem to keep down the same path they’ve been on, and thus they keep getting sick…

         It’s frustrating dealing with people like that, right? However, the more I think about it, the more I realize I’m the same way. For instance, God’s Word tells me what is best for me, it tells me how I should live and behave… yet, again and again I find myself in direct defiance of God’s Word… It’s not that I don’t know what the right thing to do is, but that I have such a hard time doing it… Again and again I find myself in direct rebellion against God. And, as I said, it’s not because I don’t know what I should be doing… I do know… And I have tried again and again to modify my behavior; but try as I might, I just can’t seem to change on my own. And that’s because my problem isn’t simply my behavior, but it’s my heart… 

         This is, in part, why the gospel is such good news. The gospel doesn’t say try harder and do better; it doesn’t say work your way to God, or do more good than bad… The gospel says, though we are far worse than we could ever imagine, God is far better than we could ever imagine. The gospel says that in Christ God came to us and worked for us. It’s His person and work that saves us, not ours. And He saves us as we are… We don’t have to earn His love. But the gospel also says that His love won’t leave us where we are… It’s His love as seen in the gospel that transforms us. So it’s not behavior modification, but gospel transformation… That’s how we change. And that’s, Lord willing, what we’ll see in our text today. So look with me at Ephesians 3:14-19.

Ephesians 3:14-19

In verse 14 our passage begins with Paul saying, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father.” “For this reason” is the same thing Paul said in 3:1; it seems as though he was beginning to layout the prayer we see in our passage today, but instead he gave the Ephesians a bit of information about himself, his ministry, and unpacked some of the great gospel-mystery he’s been referring to. So, now he’s getting back to what he started to say in verse 1. And when he says, “For this reason,” the reasonhe seems to be referring to is everything he’s been laying out thus far: the gospel he unpacks in chapters 1 and 2, the sovereignty of God, the love of God, the grace of God, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, and this great triune God’s grand plan of redemption that culminates in the glory of Christ and the joy of His church.

         Because of all of this Paul now goes to the Father in prayer. And notice he says that he bows his knees. In the Jewish culture prayer typically was done standing up. So what we’re seeing here in Paul is a sign of humility and reverence, as well as urgency and desperation. He goes to the Father in prayer this way, because of the gospel, and he goes knowing (verse 15) that it is this Father, “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named…” This is a proclamation of God’s majesty and sovereignty; it’s a statement that proclaims that God is the sovereign Creator of all and therefore has Creator-rights over all. He has a right to name every family in heaven and on earth because He is their Creator… The idea behind the word family here is tribes or people groups; and the idea behind name is not merely a title, but that He literal gives every family in heaven and on earth their identity, worth, and value. And what a needed word for our day… God’s Word teaches that the identity and worth of every people group and thus every person is not found in our feelings, in our actions, in what we look like, sound like, or where we’re from, or how much money we have or don’t have—our identity and value are found in our Creator. Every single person is created in the image of God, and thus has value, purpose, and identity. And this is even more true for the Christian; which is what is being talked about here.

         Verse 15 speaks of every family in heaven and on earth, and what Paul seems to be referencing is the family of God, the church, God’s people, the people from every nation and generation for whom Christ died; both saints who are already in heaven with the Lord, and those who are still here on the earth. All who have been or will be adopted into the family of God through the cross of Christ—Christians… And Christians have worth and identity because we’re created in the image of God just like everyone else; but also, as those bought with the blood of Christ for the glory of Christ, our worth and our identity are now directly linked to Christ and the gospel mission He has for us. We are not our own, we’ve been bought with a price, therefore we are to glorify God (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). It’s like a story I heard once of a man who got some land and then built the house of his dreams on it; in a labor of love he poured himself into this thing… But then one day, one thing led to another, and he ended up losing his house to the bank… But, he worked and he saved, and he did everything necessary to get up enough money to get his house back. And finally, when he got enough together he went to the bank and bought back his house. And as he opened the front door he said, “Now you’re twice mine… Once because I made you; and twice because I bought you…” And beloved, that’s true of all Christians… We are twice the Lord’s: once because He made us, and twice because He bought us with His own blood… And in those great acts and in this great God we find our identity and value. We exist for His glory, and we were saved for His glory…

         So Paul is acknowledging all of this as he speaks of his prayer to the Father. And he goes to this sovereign good God in prayer, so that (verse 16), “according to the riches of his glory he may grant you (the Ephesian church, but all Christians by extension) to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being…” He prays to God the Father, who is the sovereign Creator of all, because he knows that it is according to the riches of His glory that He answers prayer. He says it’s according to, or in accordance with, or in line with—given in measure to the riches of His glory.

         Paul has used the word riches a couple of times already. In Ephesians 1:18 he said that he was praying that the Holy Spirit would enlighten the eyes of the hearts of the Ephesian church, “that [they] may know what is the hope to which he has called [them], [and] what are the richesof his glorious inheritance in the saints…” In Ephesians 3:8 he said that he had been preaching the unsearchable richesof Christ. And this all seems to be linked. God’s richesand His glorygo hand in hand… God’s richesand Christgo hand in hand; and that makes sense, because as Hebrews 1:3 says, Christ is the radiance of the glory of God—Jesus is the glory of God incarnate. That word glory is δόξα in the Greek, and it means brightness, splendor, light, or reputation. And that’s what the glory of God is: it’s His brightness, His splendor, His light… it’s His reputation… it’s the going public of who He is in all of His beauty… And we see that most clearly in Jesus. Jesus displays to us how amazing and how good God is because He is God in the flesh… If you want to know what God is like, look to Jesus…

In Christ we see that God is infinitely glorious. He’s infinitely good and bright and beautiful… That’s why His riches in Christare unsearchable… They are too good to get to the bottom of because He is too glorious to get our mind around. He is infinitely bigger and more majestic than we could ever imagine… So the riches of His glory are infinite. And it is according to the riches of His infinite glory that Paul expects Him to answer prayer. What He grants, the grace He gives is not because of anything in us or who we are, but because of who He is in His infinite glory. He is the infinitely glorious, infinitely good God of creation; again, we can look to Jesus to see that… Or, if we need a sign of God’s goodness we need only look to the good we enjoy in and through His creation, and let that point us to the One from whom the creation derived its goodness. Whatever good we see or enjoy in this world is merely a taste of the goodness that is in God… He’s infinitely good and infinitely glorious…

         So Paul prays to this infinitely glorious God, knowing that it’s only by His sovereign goodness that his requests would be granted, that his prayers would only be answered by an act of sovereign grace… And he prays that God, in His grace, would strengthen His people. By strengthen he means to revive or renew, to so work in that they would be firm and resolute in their love and convictions… That they would be truly devoted… And how does he pray for this to come about? With power, through the Holy Spirit, in their inner being… Paul prays that the Ephesians would be revived, renewed, or strengthened, by the power of the Spirit, in the core of who they are… But what exactly does that mean?

         In the first part of verse 17 he elaborates a little bit, saying, “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith…” Now despite the common language of many churches and Christians, this is not talking about someone becoming a Christian, or someone inviting Jesus into their heart. Paul is praying for Christians who are already indwelt by the Spirit of Christ. So, what’s he saying? Well, if we keep in mind that verse 17 and 16 go together this all makes sense. The Holy Spirit’s work is always linked to Christ; that’s why He’s called the Spirit of Christ; as Jesus lays out in John 15:26, the Spirit’s ministry is to magnify the glory of Christ. And so here Paul is praying that He would so magnify the glory of Christ in us that Christ might all the more dwell in our hearts. And by dwell he means an increased dwelling, to settle down permanently. And by heart here he means the inner being. Verse 16 and verse 17 are really speaking of the same thing: the core of our being… the totality of who we are in the core of our identity…

         As you know, my family and I just recently bought a house; and before that, for almost the last year, we were living in a tiny house… During that time most of our belongings were in storage. For almost the last year we have been living with most of our things packed away in boxes. But now that we have a house we emptied out our storage unit, and we’re unpacking all of our boxes, and we’re making ourselves at home… And that’s the idea in verse 17: Paul is praying that God the Holy Spirit would use His power to revive, renew, or strengthen His people in their inner being, so that Christ might be more at home in the core of their being, that Jesus might all the more rule and reign in their hearts… You see, this is a prayer for sanctification… Paul is praying that the core of their being, who they are in their very identity would be more and more like Jesus. Just as we are now not only unpacked, but we are decorating, moving around furniture, hanging things on the wall, and the like… so too in sanctification does Jesus come into the very heart of a Christian and begin to transform things, moving things around, and making Himself at home.

         Now don’t misunderstand me, the moment a person becomes a Christian they are sealed and indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. So in that sense Christ takes up residence inside every Christian immediately. And the moment a person becomes a Christian they are justified by faith in Christ. Because they have turned from their sin and trusted in Jesus—the Son of God who came and took on flesh and lived the perfect life that we should be living, died a sacrificial wrath absorbing death in our place, and rose from the grave in a death defeating resurrection—because their faith is in the person and work of Christ they are counted righteous in Christ. They are seen as not guilty, and as a righteous child of God, because the only true righteous Son of God pled guilty on our behalf and took the punishment we deserve for our sin. So in that sense, any and all who have true faith in Christ are saved and counted as holy in Christ. But, though that may be our legal status before the Lord, we still need to grow in holiness; we still need to become more like Jesus… Which, in part, is what this life—the Christian life—is all about. We are on a journey, a pilgrimage in this life, seeking to put sin to death, pursue holiness, become more and more like Jesus, and make our way down the narrow way to the Celestial City. We are not trying to earn our way into heaven, but God is getting us ready for heaven, and He’s accomplishing His purposes through us in the process…

         Though we are counted holy in Christ, in this life we are still a work in progress; we are growing in holiness. And Paul here says that happens through the power of the Holy Spirit working to make us more like Jesus in the core of our being; working to make Jesus and the things of God more at home in the core of who we are. And notice how he says this happens: he says God has to grant all of this, but that it comes through faith. And as Paul said in Ephesians 2:8, faith itself is a gift from God. J. I. Packer defines faith as, “the casting and resting of oneself and one’s confidence on the promises of mercy which Christ has given to sinners, and on the Christ who gave those promises.” Faith is a trusting and a treasuring of Jesus and His Word.

And as we receive this gift of faith, and as our faith grows, we begin to be transformed from the inside out. The Christian already twice belongs to Christ. The Spirit of Christ has already taken up residence in the life of every Christian. But, every Christian needs to grow in their faith so that the reality of who Jesus is and who they are in Christ might more take over their life; in other words we need to become who we already are in Christ, and this happens as our faith in Christ and the things of God grow. And notice the work begins at the core of who we are—in our heart. Sanctification happens from the inside out; becoming more like Jesus, the Christian life is about gospel transformation, not behavior modification… Which is what we see next.

         After praying that the Spirit would do this sanctifying work, Paul gives us insight into how this happens; starting at the last part of verse 17 he says, “that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” The reason why faith is so crucial to sanctification is because sanctification happens from the inside out. That’s why Paul says this idea of Christ transforming us is tied to us being rooted and grounded in love. What do roots do? They go down into the ground reaching out and retrieving nourishment for the tree. And that’s the idea here… That one is being nourished. But it says we are to be rooted and grounded; that word could also be translated established or founded… But the idea is that we are firmly planted, and thus not easily shaken or moved. And what are we to be rooted and ground in? Love…

         The Greek word for love used in verse 17 is the same word used in verse 19: αγαπη. Which is divine love characterized by sacrifice in the pursuit of another person’s good. In other words, the love spoken of here is gospel love. Which is what verse 19 says: it’s the love of Christ. This is the love that we see demonstrated at the cross. It’s a love shown in the ultimate sacrifice: the perfect, infinitely glorious Son of God, laying down His life for broken, sinful rebels who are infinitely guilty, so that we could be saved from wrath, reconciled to God, and live for, live with, and enjoy God forever. It’s a love that is so strong that it is able to love the unlovable… This great gospel love is the love that we are to be rooted and grounded in; that we are to be nourished by and held fast by—it’s this love that makes us unshakable… And this love is directly tied to faith, and what faith is. As we see the greatness of Christ and His amazing sacrificial love for us, we not only trust Him, but we treasure Him, we love Him… And again, that’s all at the heart of what faith is…

         But notice, we cannot do this in and of ourselves… This is a work of God. By the power of the Spirit we are strengthened and thus rooted and grounded. Verse 18 says that through His power we are given strength to comprehend this great love. We need God’s power and strength to get a grasp of the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love in Christ. And just that way of describing it makes it sound like theirs a lot to grasp… Paul lays out all of these dimensions like he’s describing God’s love in 3D… But really he’s just trying to show us how vast and amazing God’s love in Christ truly is… That’s why he says in verse 19 that this love surpasses knowledge.

         Some people over analyze each of these ideas and say that Paul has different things in mind with each dimension… While I don’t think that’s the case, I do absolutely love the way that John Stott breaks this down. He says, “the love of Christ is ‘broad’ enough to encompass all of mankind (especially Jews and Gentiles), ‘long’ enough to last for eternity, ‘deep’ enough to reach the most degraded sinner, and ‘high’ enough to exalt him to heaven.” What amazing love! This is a far greater, far more amazing love than we could ever imagine. As Charles Wesley said in that old hymn, “Amazing love! How can it be? That Thou my God has died for me…” It’s a love so amazing, so divine, that we need strength from God to comprehend it. And even then Paul says that it surpasses knowledge… We can’t ever fully comprehend it. We can know it and explain it to a degree, but never fully… Which makes sense, since this love is rooted in the infinite riches of God’s glory. Indeed, as 1 John 4:16 tells us, “God is love…” And God is BIG. He’s infinite… And therefore this love is infinitely big and great as well…

         Nevertheless, Paul prays that God would so work in His people that they would know the great love of Christ. But the word used for know here means a lot more than knowledge. It’s an intimate knowing: the way a husband and a wife know each other, the way God knows His people… It’s relational and experiential… Essentially Paul is praying the same thing the Psalmist does in Psalm 34: that God’s people would taste and see that the Lord is good. I can describe to you how good a certain food taste, and at that point you have some knowledge about it; but you don’t really know how good it is until you have tasted and seen for yourself, until you have experienced it yourself.

         We begin to truly comprehend how great and how amazing the love of Christ is, we begin to truly comprehend how glorious and good God is when we experience it firsthand… We taste and see that He is good as we look to Him, trust in Him, grow in our knowledge of Him and His great gospel, and experience His love and grace firsthand as He saves us and works in our lives. And not just in our lives personally, but in the life of the church. Notice he says that this happens with all the saints. In other words, sanctification is a community project. The gospel and the love of Christ become bigger and more amazing to us the more our lives are linked to gospel community—to the community of people who have experienced the love of Christ. As we see God working in and through people from every nation and generation, in and through people from all walks of life, our insight into the love of Christ grows. We see more clearly how amazing the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of Christ is… that He saves and transforms to the uttermost. And we experience His love all the more through the lives, grace, gifts, good works, and love of His people. Just as the good we see in creation points us to the good of the Creator, so too the love we see and experience in Christ’s church points us to the love of Christ Himself. It takes the whole people of God to get a grasp on the whole love of God.

Now after laying all of this out, Paul says the point in this prayer is, “that you may be filled with all the fullness of God…” This doesn’t imply that we aren’t already filled with God… As we’ve already established, the Holy Spirit immediately takes up residence in everyone who trusts in Christ… So, that’s not what he’s talking about here; so what is he talking about? Well, he uses that same word, “fullness,” in Ephesians 4:13. There he calls the whole church to be about the work of discipling one another, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” And that’s the same idea here. To be filled with all the fullness of God is to be mature in Christ; it means less of us and more of Him, down to the very core of we are. So again, just like verses 16 and 17, this is talking about sanctification, it’s talking about growing in Christ-likeness or Christian maturity. That’s the point of this prayer; it’s a prayer for revival and sanctification, that the people of God might be more amazed by the love of God in the Son of God, and thus become more in love with the Son of God and more like the Son of God…

Conclusion

What we see here in this prayer is that sanctification, life transformation, our being transformed more and more into the image of Christ, Christian maturityhappens through the Holy Spirit working in power to strengthen our faith, and renew and revive us by opening our eyes all the more to the beauty of the glory of God and the love of God in Christ, so that we might all the more taste and see that the Lord is good. The more we comprehend the love of Christ the more our hearts will be transformed by Christ. As we see how amazing He is in the gospel, as we see how amazing His love is in the gospel the more the life of Christ takes root in our hearts… The more amazed we are by the love of God in Christ the more like Christ we become, becausethe more we comprehend who He is and how He loves us, the more we love Him. To know and experience—to taste and see—the fullness of God’s love in Christ is what transforms us more and more into the image of Christ. Who we are, in the very core of our being is transformed as our view of the infinitely glorious Christ and His gospel grows. The more accurate and in depth our knowledge of Christ, the more at home He will be in our hearts; meaning, the more we will love Him. And the more we love Him, the more we’ll live for Him and be like Him.

         We grow in holiness not by the strength of our will power, but by the power of the Spirit of God, working to open our eyes, our minds, and our hearts to greater knowledge of the love of God in the Son of God. Yes, we need the Law, we need commandments, we need the Word of God to tell us what to do and how to live, but without love, without gospel-transformation, without the work of the Spirit of God we will never love and live for God. But, that isn’t to say He doesn’t use means. We grow in our knowledge of God and His love by studying His Word. And likewise, we know and experience the fullness of God’s love in Christ in and through God’s people. By worshiping together, doing life together, and loving one another we experience the love of God and get greater insight into the love of God. And of course this is all dependent upon God graciously answering prayer. So, if you’re like me, and you desire to grow in Christ, to do better at fighting sin and pursuing holiness, then do everything you can to get a bigger view of Christ and His great gospel love. For as our knowledge of Him and His love grows, so grows our love for Him; and the more we love Him, the less we will love this world. So be desperate in prayer, be diligent in studying God’s Word, link your life to the local church, and survey the wondrous cross day by day, and let it show you how amazing His love truly is.