..A Magazine for all Christians · Nº 39 · May - June 2006
The edification of the house of God has stages that are like the steps of a staircase, in which it is necessary to advance with all the saints until reaching the fullness of Christ.
Strengthening the inner man
Reading: Ephesians 3:14-23.
The upward staircase
In the previous text we see a progression, a great staircase where the later step rests on the previous one and this in turn on the former. The edification of the house of God has stages or previous links which are necessary for all the saints in order to reach the final step which is the fullness of Christ. The Word of God tells us (Genesis 28) that Jacob in Betel saw a staircase; here we will see some of the steps of that staircase.
Paul begins by saying: "For this reason." Paul first saw something of God, and God's cause, because what chapters 1 to 3 of Ephesians tells us is the eternal purpose of God, the identity of the Church and the place of the Church in that holy purpose. That is the cause to which Paul's intercession was committed. Firstly he saw the purpose of God; he saw the meaning of the Church for God and the place of the Church in the purpose of God. But we can fall into the temptation of only talking about a mystic vision of the Church. The Lord doesn't want us just to talk about that beautiful and mystic vision of what the Church is in the Word of God, but rather God really wants to have the Church as a wife for Himself, as a Body for His Son, as a vehicle for His Spirit, as a dwelling place for His fullness.
First step: Life in Christ
That requires a very intimate work of God; first with each one of us personally; that is to say, in order for God to have the Church that he really wants, he has to do a serious work, without deviation; to truly take us in His hands and to do a true work. When the work of the Lord is true, you can feel it; it sometimes hurts; not always, but it is true pain, because God is truly dealing with us, he is truly transforming us, and that means that God unequivocally 'interferes' with us, with all our things; in every area of our life, even those that we least imagine, the time will arrive when God puts His finger on that and says: "I'm now going to deal with this are using the method that I alone know is the appropriate one. Until now I have dealt with other things, but it's now this part's turn."
We can see that the edification that God carries out in His dwelling place for His fullness, is done in a very practical way with very true dealings in each one of us, first as individuals, but the dealings of God in each individual, later become dealings with us as a Church.
Second step: To be strengthened in the inner man
God works with each individual, with 'self' of those redeemed, dealing with each one as a special case. Then the Lord deals with the interrelations of individuals, as a Church. He does a personal work with each one in order to be able to do a collective work with the Church. What sometimes happens is that we don't allow God to work in us as individuals, and that prevents the collective work of the Lord from advancing with the Church. That teaches us about how essential the work of the Lord is in us as individuals, in order to truly work with the Church. Verse 16 says: "... that he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, that ye may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man." Here we find the first step on this staircase. Paul is praying that we might reach the first step; our intercession should end up understanding Paul's intercession in the spirit; and desire that God may allow this to become our intercession. It is sad that in many cases, we have rarely ever interceded for this cause. Being strengthened with power in the inner man by the Spirit of God is the first objective which we must commit to pray for, for one another, to pray for each one of our brothers and sisters.
If this first step is not taken, if we are not strengthened with power in our spirit, we may speak a great deal, we may have vision, but we won't have the reality of that vision, because the reality of that vision is given through the strengthening of the inner man. One may know what he should do, and have the ideals, but if we are not strengthened with power in the inner man, we cannot put the ideals that we have into practice. So the first necessity is life, the strengthening of the inner man. The apostle John in his first epistle, in chapter 5:16 says: "If any man see his brother sinning a sin not unto death, he shall ask, and God will give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: not concerning this do I say that he should make request."
If someone sees his brother sinning which is not unto death -that is to say that God has not had to decide upon his death - he will ask God and God will give him life; that means that believers sin because we have a restricted flow of life; although we have the life of the Lord in our spirit, its circulation through the rest of our being is still very weak; it is not strengthened, and because it is weak we are able to do things that offend God and other people; we are not sufficiently consecrated. And to what does that owe? A lack of the flowing of life. When the Word says that if someone sees his brother sinning -that's where the intercession is - that is not of death, he will ask God who will give him life, and God will give him life. In Ephesians 2 it says that God, when we were dead in transgressions and sins, gave us life together with Christ. The first need that we have in the new creation is that of life. Life is the beginning, and this which says: "to be strengthened with power in the inner man", is a question of life. We are almost always inclined to criticize, to judge, to sentence, but nobody is helped by that attitude; only by asking for life. That is the first necessity that each person has, to be strengthened in their inner man.
Third step: That Christ dwell in our heart
Once the previous objective has been achieved it is the requirement for a second and more advanced objective which is the reason for which we need to be strengthened in the inner man. We now read (verse 17): "... that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith." So, as we have seen, we have to intercede; bow my knees before the Father to this cause, because I know what God wants, because I see what the Church means to God, I see the place of the Church in that purpose, and in order for that purpose to begin to be completed, we first need life, and then to be strengthened in life in the inner man. That is the main thing. Not religious activities; not the outward appearances that one usually has, but life; the thing that's really needed is life, the inner man's strength. The Word tells us that that being strengthened in the inner man, is so that Christ may dwell by faith in our hearts. Truly, the life of the Lord, the inner man's strengthening must flow from within toward the outside. The Lord Jesus identified the inner man as our spirit. The Lord Jesus says in John 7:38: "He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, from within him shall flow rivers of living water."
And then in the following verse John explains by the Holy Spirit: "But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believed on him were to receive: for the Spirit was not yet given; because Jesus was not yet glorified " That confirms that it is necessary for the Spirit to flow like a river from within. When the Scripture says "from within", that word in the Greek language is ek, from which we have those roots in English: exodus, external, exterior; ek means to leave, from inside out; it is a Greek preposition that is drawn in grammar like a kind of circle with an arrow coming out of it, to give an idea of the meaning of the preposition: to come out of. Let us note then that when saying from His spirit, it means that the life of the Lord passes from the human spirit to the soul.
That's why he says to the Church - he isn't speaking to unbelievers, he says it to the Church who already has the Lord in their spirit -: "that Christ may dwell", as if he didn't already dwell. But he doesn't say "in your spirit" but "in your hearts." Is it necessary to understand what 'heart' means in the Bible, because when Paul says to the Church that they be strengthened in the inner man so that Christ may dwell in their hearts, if one thinks that he already received Him in the heart, then, how could he say "so that Christ dwell the heart of the saints", if they are already saints precisely because they received Christ in the heart? We need to understand what 'heart' means in the Bible. We must understand what it is that Christ dwell in the heart by means of the strengthening of the inner man through the flowing of the Spirit of God from man's spirit toward man's soul; since in the Bible it says that the heart is the soul as well as the conscience of the spirit.
In the Bible we can see that our spirit is our being's most intimate part, that is to say the Holiest Place of the temple of God. The spirit has three main functions: That of the conscience, as the Word says, "a pure heart... an upright spirit within me... a contrite and humble heart you will not despise." Contrition is a question of conscience; so man's conscience is related to his spirit; the conscience is a function of the spirit. The Word says: "my conscience bearing witness with me in the Holy Spirit." It is with our spirit that we receive the certainties that the Spirit of God communicates to us. In Romans 8:16 it says that: "The Spirit bears witness to our spirit, that we are children of God." The other functions of the human spirit are intuition and communion with God.
The soul has functions different to those of the spirit, like that of the mind. There is a verse that says: "My soul knows it very well...", so that which knows things, that of knowing, of thinking, of reasoning, those mental functions correspond to the soul. But the whole range of emotions also corresponds to the soul. In the Bible the soul is that which is content, which is sad, which gets angry, which was given over to desire; and the will is also of the soul. Now when we see the functions of the soul and those of the conscience of the spirit, and we see what the heart does, we discover that the heart is the relationship of the soul to the conscience of the spirit, because the Word says that from the heart flows life.
Life comes from the Spirit of God to our spirit, but doesn't come to be still but to flow, to flow from the spirit to the soul; from the most intimate part of our being, from the intuition, perception and communion that we experience when we are in the presence of God, and so we experience a flowing of life in the spirit. From there, it has to flow; out from (ek) within; to flow toward our being's outer parts. In the Old Testament, when God symbolized the house of God with the temple, from the Holiest Place, under the throne, the river of life flowed, but the river of life came out from the Holiest Place, passed through the holy place, then through the atrium, and finally it flowed out to the nations and into the sea; from under the throne of God in the Holiest Place the river flowed outwards. That was the typology, but the reality exists today.
The river of God is the Spirit and the house of God is us; the Holiest Place is our spirit, the Holy Place is our soul and the atrium is our body. That teaches us that the plan of God is that the life of God manifested in Jesus Christ and given to us by the Holy Spirit, has first reached our spirit and from there must flow to our soul; that is to say, your inner man is strengthened so that Christ may dwell by faith your hearts.
The heart has functions that are a little more external than those of the spirit, because the spirit is more intimate than the human heart; on the other hand the heart is related with the conscience of the spirit, but it is, so to speak, the door through which life flows. "Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life" (Proverbs 4:23). The door from which the Spirit of the Lord comes out of the depths, out of intimacy, toward the outside, is the heart. If you study what the functions of the heart are in the Bible, you will see that they are the same as those of our soul, so that to say 'heart' and 'soul' is almost the same thing, with the difference that when you say heart, you are talking about something more, because it contains the conscience of the spirit.
Because, what are the functions of the heart? The Bible says: "... because if our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things" (1 John 3:20-21); which is to say that that function of the conscience, of condemning or affirming, is of the heart. There we see the function that the heart, with the human spirit, is that of the conscience. Also in Hebrews 4:12 it says: "For the word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing even to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart." The functions of the soul are referred to here, because its intentions are exercised with the mind and the will. There is a flowing from within toward the outside, from the spirit to the soul, to the heart.
The life that every child of God already has is kept very deep within us. But often in our thinking -because when we say heart, we need to understand it in its totality: that the thoughts are of the heart, the intentions are of the heart, the conscience is of the heart, emotions are of the heart - we will say, yes, Christ dwells in my heart, I accepted Christ into my heart. It is very easy to say that, but to live it out is different. To have Christ dwelling in my heart means that Christ is dwelling in my thoughts. But how many children of God have thoughts where Christ doesn't dwell. This means that the process of Christ dwelling in the heart is something more complex; that Christ dwell in my thoughts, dwell in my emotions, requires a process, a development, because how many children of God have emotions of anger, of laziness, of rebelliousness, of adultery, or of anything else, and we are legitimate Christians and we have the Lord in our spirit, but our emotions are not yet sufficiently controlled or indwelt by Christ, and if we are not strengthened in the inner man, those emotions become a giant that is difficult to manage and to control. But if we are strengthened in the inner man, this controls those emotions, it brings our thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ, it brings the will into line with the will of God, because it is a flowing of Christ that comes from within toward the outside.
That is a spiritual law: all that which is of God is in Christ; all that which is of God and Christ, is in the Spirit; all that is of the Spirit comes to our spirit, and all that which is of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and which is in our spirit, has to be formed, to be transfused into our thoughts, intentions, emotions, conscience; that is to say, in our hearts. In 1 Corinthians 14:15, when Paul speaks of praying in the spirit, he says: "I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also" In verse 13 it says: "... Wherefore let him that speaketh in a tongue pray that he may interpret"
Understanding belongs to the mind of the soul, the heart, but in the spirit one is interceding, so he gives a case in which, as the mind is a little more external, it is not able to interpret the prayer of the spirit, and that's why Paul exhorts saying (verse 14): "or if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prayeth, but my understanding is unfruitful." That's why it's necessary to ask in prayer to be able to interpret it, so that the light of life doesn't just remain in the spirit but rather it lights up the eyes of understanding and flows from within toward the outside and from the inner man to also inhabit the heart.
All that is a process. Receiving the Lord gave us life; we were dead in our trespasses and sins, but when uniting with the Lord he cleansed us from our sins and gave us life and the Spirit. Then the second stage is in the heart; it is a more serious work. The work of God is true. So in order for Christ to dwell in my thoughts, God has to combat with my mind, with my mental habits, with thoughts, with lies that I have accepted as truths and that are in our thoughts. He already dwells in my spirit, but it is necessary for Him to dwell in my thoughts.
There is a very marked relationship between thoughts and feelings, because according to what I think and feel, I do. So Proverbs 23:7 tells us: " For as he thinketh within himself, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; But his heart is not with thee." According to what the person thinks with his heart, so he does. If the devil tells you a lie as though it were truth and you accept that lie as truth, you begin to mistakenly feel and also act. To correct the behavior it is necessary to correct the feeling, and to correct the feeling one's thinking must be corrected, so as to demonstrate where the devil's lie is, because a lie cannot be expelled as if it were a demon, because a demon is a person, and demons' deceit exists in the person; the demon can leave, but if the lie is there, that lie cannot be driven out, one has to remove falsehood with the truth.
That work of Christ's dwelling in the heart is a true and meticulous surgical operation conducted by the Lord, with our mental habits, decisive feelings; in that process God is operating. God truly wants something for himself; he wants to flow in us and that our thoughts agree with his, but often he thinks one thing and we another, because his thoughts are not ours, so our thoughts have to learn how to be subject to Christ; and that is a long work of God that one can only do with the strengthening of the inner man.
Before the strengthening of the inner man, we don't want to, but now we do; before you thought bad things, now you think good things; before you were opaque, now you are luminous, because you were strengthened in the inner man. But now your thoughts need to be indwelt by Christ. Your thoughts, your determinations, must go on being increasingly crystalline, more transparent. You can put water in a glass if it is clean, and if somebody drinks that water, it tastes like water because it is pure and the glass is clean. But if the glass is not clean, although the water is clean, the glass adds a different or strange flavor. It is water, but it also has some strange elements.
We are that dirty glass; we have the treasure but in vessels of clay. When we meet with our brothers and sisters, seemingly all is well, but there is always a strange flavor that should be treated; that strange flavor is where Christ is not dwelling, but rather there is an old element that should be renovated by the Spirit. That is a true operation of God, and it is not only a pretty doctrine but a surgical operation that God does with each child, with all our personality, because he wants to be reflected through our personality; our personality must be purified, renovated.
Fourth step: To understand the measure of Christ
In the previous steps we have spoken of a process on an individual level; now enters a step at a collective level. The objective of being strengthened in the inner man is for Christ to dwell in the heart, and the objective of this is the present successive link, which we can locate again in verses 17-19a: "that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; to the end that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be strong to apprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which passeth knowledge "
Why does the Lord need to do that work in the heart until the point where we listen to the guidance of God and the inner voice? So that you may "be strong to apprehend with all the saints" the measure of Christ. An individual cannot understand the measure of Christ, but rather he has to be understood collectively. In order for me to be able to understand the measure of Christ with my brothers and sisters, I must be previously dealt with in my heart otherwise I won't accept my brother. I will accept myself, but I won't believe that God can tell me something through another brother. That's why it is necessary for God to begin to operate in each one of us; so we may learn how to understand collectively. It's one thing to understand something individually, but it is another altogether when we are together, because between us we all understand more since what one understands individually is one solitary thing, but what one understands with others is greater.
Brother Watchman Nee gave a very beautiful example in a book which deals with some topics that he shared just before being imprisoned for 20 years. He said that if a glass is broken into many pieces, there may not be one piece missing; they may all be there; but, how much water can the glass pieces contain? A piece can only contain a certain level, but when all the pieces form a glass, they not only contain the sum of what each piece can contain, but even more. For example, if one piece can contain 2 and another 2, this equals 4, and another 2, equals 6, and another two, 8... 24... 32... 40. If each one of us contains 2, what we contain separately is 40; but if we join them together, we will no longer only contain 40, but 2,000, 5,000; because a whole glass fits more in it than the broken glass. As individuals, we can contain a certain measure, but as the Church we were predestined to contain the fullness, but this is something very serious.
Brother, you will perhaps learn that the greatest sufferings that you will have in your life won't come from the devil, or from enemies; you may receive them from those dearest or closest to you, from your friends; you will be deeply wounded, perhaps criticized or shown up or embarrassed, or perhaps looked down upon, or rejected, or ignored; but those sufferings teach us not to behave in that way with others.
One cannot realize how one is with others, until another is like that with us, then we realize. There we have the example of Jacob. He didn't realize that he was Jacob, the cheat, the usurper. God had a purpose with Jacob and needed to deal with him, and God knew where Jacob needed to go to learn, and guided him to Laban, his uncle. In the relationship with his uncle, he not only tried to change the skin of the livestock, but rather his uncle changed his wife, and he changed his wage 30 times. We realize what we do to others when they do it to us. The Lord truly deals with us. If someone tries to escape being dealt with, they will remain outside of the Church, far from God's plan; if we really want to walk God's way, we have to accept many dispositions from the Lord that may bother us or hurt us, because it is necessary to learn how to understand together with others, and this is very difficult. It is very difficult to come to an agreement with people who see things differently, who have a different temperament, different character; some are extroverted, others introverted; some are hyperactive and others are lazy.
Fifth step: The Church filled with the fullness of God
It is necessary to learn how to be a single and whole glass, not a broken one. In verse 19b it says: "... that ye may be filled unto all the fulness of God." God has predestined the Church as a vessel for His fullness; but in order for that fullness of God to fit into the Church, this has to be very coordinated as a single Body, and that coordination, that connection of the one with the other is painful for the flesh but good for the spirit, because God doesn't put us with people who we like. If the decision depended on us, we would choose people who we like, but God has other children, maybe those who one didn't want to be with, and God puts you with them and you must learn how to swallow hard, to bear with them and to suffer; and that means denying yourself, and another denying himself, until there is nothing left of him or you except Christ in him, and Christ in you.
That's where to find Christ's fullness. This is nothing theoretical; the Lord is not happy with theories or libraries full of the topics of the Church; that is all very well, but it is not enough; he wants a true Church, and for us to learn how to be integrated with one another, even if they are not our friends; there is every type of variety in the Church.
The Word says: "that ye may be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inward man... strong to apprehend with all the saints...." How difficult it is to "apprehend with all..."; it is very easy to be sure of my opinion, to be sure of my wisdom, of the clear interpretation of doctrine, and so why should I have to listen to others' interpretation, and I refute it and I underestimate it before hearing it. It is necessary to try to understand others and to recognize that he was also right and that it enriches me with what I didn't see and perhaps God enriches him with what I say, and I am no longer alone seeing two, and he alone seeing two, but together we see ten, because by joining two and two they are four, but four have relationship with eight and increases the union; this is something very practical and it is necessary to learn how to avoid being guided by natural tastes, but rather allowing the dispositions of God to prevail as God has ordered the circumstances in ones' life, with people that he wants, be it that they are pleasant or not.
We have to learn something of that because the individual life is not sufficient, but rather we need understanding with all the saints the measure of Christ, and then to reach the last step, so that you are filled "with all the fullness of God", predestined as saints, as one Body. This is the way ahead that awaits us.