Calvary Road Baptist Church


Ephesians 3.17a 

Ephesians 3.13-21: 

13 Wherefore I desire that ye faint not at my tribulations for you, which is your glory.

14 For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

15 Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,

16 That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;

17 That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,

18 May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;

19 And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.

20 Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,

21 Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen. 

A great 20th-century pastor and Christian leader was well known for stating the little proverb, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”[1] He was right. Leadership plays a tremendously important role in the lives of others. In verse 13, which we have just read, Paul lends credence to this truth by recognizing that the difficulties he was enduring would profoundly affect others.

As Paul wrote this and other letters, he was confined to Roman imprisonment for preaching the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. And although he knew that Christians everywhere were watching intently to see what would ultimately happen to this apostle of Jesus Christ to the Gentile world, his primary concern was that they correctly interpret what his sufferings were all about. His concern was that they might think that his suffering was a setback for the cause of Christ or that his imprisonment meant something had gone awry. So, to counter the threat of them becoming discouraged and losing the will to continue in the struggle, he did two things: First, he prayed for them. And, oh, how much a part of his life and ministry was prayer. But after he prayed for them, he told them that he prayed for them and what he prayed for for them.

Let us consider Paul’s explanation to the Ephesians of what he prayed for that would prove so beneficial to their Christian lives. In verse 16, he asked God to strengthen them with might by His Spirit in the inner man. He wanted God, drawing on the infinite resources at His immediate disposal, to give his brothers and sisters in Christ the strength to endure, to persevere, to keep on keeping on.

By the way, this persistence, this dogged determination to serve God no matter what the cost or obstacle that lies before us, is what has historically distinguished genuine believers from so-called Christians who were nothing more than sunshine soldiers. Beloved, life is hard. There’s no denying that. But the child of God is strengthened by the Holy Spirit to be tough enough on the inside, in the inner man, to get the job done for Christ. Amen?

The first half of Ephesians 3.17 is an example of Paul’s characteristic habit of dealing with an issue from several different perspectives. For example: When Paul describes the Church in First Corinthians, he refers to it using agricultural terms, planting and watering, and harvesting, then using building terms, with a master builder and bricks and mortar, and then uses the picture of a human body to describe its various parts. In like manner, when describing what he prays for here, he does much the same thing. In verse 16, he wrote that he asked God to strengthen his readers in the inner man by the Spirit. Then, in verse 17a, which is the second clause of Paul’s prayer, we have a restatement of the first clause.

Allow me to explain what I mean by showing you the parallels between verse 16 and the first part of verse 17. Paul says that “the inner man” in verse 16 corresponds to “your hearts” in verse 17. Being “strengthened” in verse 16 corresponds to “dwell” in verse 17. And there is a correspondence between the Holy Spirit in verse 16 and the Lord Jesus Christ in verse 17. Look at these three critical words, dwell, heart, and faith, and then let me say something about the Holy Spirit and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I direct your attention, first, to the word “dwell.” It translates the Greek word “katoikέw.” I remember when I first became aware of this word. It was during a study of the book of the Revelation some years ago. And it was in a negative sense because frequently in the Revelation, John describes unsaved people as “they that dwell upon the earth.” And why negative? Because the word “dwell” refers to taking up permanent residence. It carries the idea of planting a tap root deep into the soil, making removal impossible.[2]

Since believers in Jesus Christ are heaven-bound, since we are strangers and sojourners on this earth, it would be terrible for us to be described in this way. But here in Ephesians, it isn’t us who are described as those who “dwell,” but the Lord Jesus Christ. He “dwells” in hearts by faith. If words have meaning, Paul wants the Lord Jesus Christ to make the believer’s hearts His permanent habitation through the believer’s faith.

How about the word “heart?” Since this is not a reference to that organ that pumps blood, we have a figurative use of the word “heart.” In Scripture, the term “heart” is used in two different ways; to distinguish feelings from understanding and as a reference to the whole soul, including both your intellect and your emotions. It is in this second way that Paul uses the word here.

Since a person’s relationship with Christ is neither feelings in the absence of intellect or a form of knowledge to the exclusion of feelings, Paul uses the word “heart” to encompass what he terms in the previous verse, “the inner man.” So, the prayer of Paul was that Christ would “dwell,” take up permanent residence, not in your heart organ, but the full extent of both your mind and emotions, in your “heart.”

Third, we have the word “faith.” What is faith? It is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, Hebrews 11.1. Faith is also confidence, trust, reliance. The verdict you reach from considering and weighing all the circumstantial evidence establishes something beyond a reasonable doubt.

Paul’s prayer was that Christ would take up permanent residence in his reader’s hearts by faith. But remember something. This was written to people who were already saved, who had already trusted Christ to the saving of their souls. Aren’t these people, then, already indwelt by the Holy Spirit? According to Romans 8.9-10, they are: 

9  But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.

10 And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 

May I attempt to clear up something that causes unsaved people a world of confusion and can also be troubling to believers? As the Lord Jesus Christ perfectly represents the Father, so the Holy Spirit perfectly represents the Lord Jesus Christ. When the Lord Jesus Christ announced to His disciples His imminent departure, He also announced that He would be replaced by the Holy Spirit, Who He described as “another Comforter,” John 14.16. The Greek word He used to describe the Holy Spirit, ἄlloV, shows Him to be Another of precisely the same kind.

Thus, when you look at such verses as Romans 8.10 and Ephesians 3.17 through the eyes of a lost person, you might think that having Christ in your heart was a necessary prerequisite for salvation. But hold on a minute! Paul is praying that Christ would come and “dwell” in the hearts of people already saved. If Christ has to be in your heart for you to be saved, then we have a contradiction with Paul, who is praying that Christ would dwell in the hearts of the believers in Ephesus.

We have what appears here to be a discrepancy in the Bible. If some folks are correct, one is converted to Christ by receiving Christ into your heart or by asking Jesus to come into your heart. If Paul is right in Ephesians 3.17, Christians can receive the blessing of Christ effectively, impactfully, and experientially dwelling in their hearts sometime after they are saved. What is going on here?

Let me come at this from another direction. Did you know that iron rusts? Did you know that wood rots? Did you know that concrete cracks? Did you know that paint peels? That’s why the Church property needs painters and carpenters, and cement workers, because the building is so old and the natural processes have taken their toll for so long that certain things need to be tended to around here.

Guess what? That same kind of gradual decaying and erosion takes place in the spiritual realm as well. Truths that are well-established in the Word of God can become so neglected over time that erosion has taken place in the minds and hearts of the people. Many now question the inspiration of Scripture. Others are questioning the reality of Hell. But these kinds of things are simply the result of so many lost men in the pulpits of America and the general confusion that exists surrounding the simple question, “What must I do to be saved?”

Contrary to Child Evangelism Fellowship last time I checked, and contrary to many other groups and preachers, but in perfect agreement with the authoritative Word of the living God, sinners are not saved by receiving Jesus Christ into their hearts. If you think you became a Christian based upon salvation being accomplished by taking the Savior into your heart, you were mistaken. You can become a great Roman Catholic that way, but you cannot become a Christian in that fashion. Salvation is not accomplished by anything that resembles the so-called infusion of grace into a sinner.

I will build my message around three words. These three words are significant in every genuinely saved person’s life but are often not very well understood. A proper understanding of these words will clearly show anyone with the eyes to see that no one is saved by receiving Christ into his heart. 


Don’t be afraid of the term. It simply refers to being made holy.[3] There are two aspects of sanctification that I want you to consider:

First, sanctification is prospective. By prospective, I mean that one of the essential ingredients in being sanctified is looking forward. Does not Paul pray, in our text, 

“that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith”? 

Martin Lloyd Jones explains, “[Paul] is offering this petition, that Christ may dwell in their hearts by faith, for those who had already been sealed with (or by) the Spirit.”[4] And what about Galatians 4.19? 

“My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you.” 

Was this not also written to saved people? Yes. It was.

The whole idea of Christ being in someone can only refer to two concepts: On one hand, it can refer to Christ’s presence in every Christian’s life through the person of the indwelling Holy Spirit, Who perfectly and presently represents the Savior in the life of every Christian. But it can also refer to the believer growing in Christian maturity and reflecting a definite Christ-likeness in his personality as a result of being conformed to Christ, as Romans 8.29 talks about: 

“For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” 

However, does any Christian ever reach that level of sanctification where it can be stated that he or she has arrived, has attained? Pentecostal theology says “Yes.” Bible theology shows “No.” Because sanctification is always, at least until we get to heaven, prospective. Philippians 3.12-14: 

12 Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.

13  Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,

14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. 

Was there ever a more spiritual Christian than the Apostle Paul? Was anyone more mature than he was? Yet he tells us that he had not attained perfect conformity. And why not? Because by its very nature, sanctification is prospective. It is a goal to strive for, one that will not be reached this side of heaven.

But sanctification is not only prospective. It’s also processive. By that, I mean to say that sanctification is a process that takes place in the lives of God’s people. Lost people disagree with this notion because they think they can make themselves better over time. But Pentecostals and Nazarenes would also disagree with this because they think of sanctification as not being a process but as a step that is accomplished dramatically and miraculously.

But I ask you, how can you read Second Peter 1.4-7 and not think of sanctification as being an arduous process that takes place over the entire lifetime of the child of God? 

4  Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

5  And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge;

6  And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness;

7  And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. 

So, Paul is not referring to being converted to Christ in Ephesians 3.17 when he prays that Christ would dwell in the Ephesians by faith. He’s praying that they would grow spiritually, that they would experience real sanctification in their lives as they were conformed more and more to the image of Christ. 


Suppose sanctification is what the Holy Spirit does in magnifying Christ in the believer’s life, in so powerfully manifesting His presence in the believer’s life that the personality of the Lord Jesus Christ is altering the believer’s personality. In that case, this word surrender describes what the believer’s role in that sanctification process happens to be.

To put it another way, if sanctification is the process that takes place between the time you turn to Christ until the time you arrive in heaven, surrender wonderfully describes the individual events in your life that you are responsible for as a believer. Romans 12.1-2 is perhaps the most well-known passage in all the Bible that deals with surrender. But it deals with surrender in the reverse order in which it occurs in your life. The passage is written to reflect the logical basis of the events described, which are experienced chronologically in the reverse sequence:

In reality, generally speaking, what comes first chronologically is realization, Romans 12.2: 

“And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” 

How does the renewing of one’s mind occur except through prayer and the study of God’s Word, meditating on God’s Word, and such things as that? As a believer, you are to study the Word of God. And as you read and study or listen to a sermon, you begin to see how your thoughts differ from God’s thoughts and how your ways differ from God’s ways.

But what is that? That’s simply a realization that there’s a particular pattern of behavior, a specific pattern of thought, a sin, that needs to be subjected to the will of God. Understand that this process occurs thousands of times in a believer’s life. It doesn’t just happen during a sermon, a Bible study, or during a personal devotional time. Many Churches function as though this process occurs only during an invitation conducted after a preaching service, though there is no such Scriptural evidence for that being the case.

And when the Christian fulfills his or her proper role in the sanctification process, what follows realization is presentation, Romans 12.1: 

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” 

To illustrate how sanctification and surrender are traveling companions in the Christian’s life, let me describe a hypothetical situation: Young Will trusted Christ at the age of 13, so he’s been saved about two years now. God’s plan for Will includes sanctification, growing in grace and knowledge to such a degree that the Holy Spirit is obviously in control of his life, and it reflects in a real Christ-likeness in his personality. But Will hasn’t arrived yet. It’s debatable just how much of Christ shows through in his life or how much of his behavior is pretending to win the favor of older Christians. A point of surrender comes when Will realizes through preaching and Bible reading that he must learn to lead, not follow, in his relationships with young women, as a way of preparing to be a leader in his home as a husband in the future. But the problem is this: The girl he likes insists on leading him around like a little puppy dog. She loves to manipulate and control him. Will can only fulfill his responsibilities to surrender when, after realizing his shortcoming, he actually presents this problem to God and either begins to lead that young woman functionally, or he finds a new friend. Realization without presentation is not surrendering. 


Up to this point in time, I have spoken entirely about things that take place in the life of a person who is already a believer in Jesus Christ. Only to genuinely saved people are any Scripture passages found which refer to Christ being in the believer. So, even if someone disagrees that Christ is in the believer by the Holy Spirit’s indwelling, it must at least be admitted Christ coming into the believer is not something that happens at salvation.

Sanctification is a process that begins when someone is justified by faith in Christ. Sanctification continues until that believer arrives in heaven. Surrender speaks to the believer’s responsibility in the process of sanctification, those discreet events in a Christian’s life when decisions to obey and conform to God’s will are made. But salvation necessarily occurs before these two things. Before sanctification and before surrender comes salvation. And how does salvation come? It comes this way:

First, you must be conceived. This is good since everyone here was conceived. Conception was an important event in your life for two reasons: First, because conception was the event when your life began. Second, because conception was the time you became a sinner. How do I know? 

Psalm 51.5:  

“Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” 

Romans 3.23:           

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” 

Romans 5.12:           

“Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” 

So, you were conceived a sinner.

But being conceived is not enough for salvation. You must also be convicted. Let us address conviction as something the Holy Spirit does in the life of an unsaved person. Through Bible preaching, witnessing, and so forth, the Holy Spirit gains the attention of the sinner, awakens the sinner to the reality of eternity, sin, death, Hell, the need for salvation, and Jesus Christ as the only Savior of one’s eternal and undying soul. Before conviction by the Holy Spirit, it is a common thing for others to be more concerned about an individual’s soul than he or she may be. Once conviction begins, however, the sinner becomes extremely concerned about his own soul, her own destiny, his own relationship with Jesus Christ, and things such as that. How critical to genuine salvation is conviction? It is vital. It’s indispensable. For you see, only the convicted sinner cries out, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”[5] Only the convicted sinner is truly pricked in his heart and asks, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”[6]

Only when a sinner is convicted can that sinner then be converted. But how is a sinner converted to Christ? Well, you aren’t converted by asking Jesus to come into your heart. If that were the case, none of the apostles were saved because the Lord Jesus stood before them, clothed in human flesh. At no time was Jesus Christ ever in the hearts of any of the apostles.

If asking Jesus to come into your heart was necessary to be saved, then Stephen, the first Christian martyr, died a lost man. I say that because as he was being stoned to death, he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father.[7] How could the glorified Jesus be at the right hand of the Father and inside Stephen’s heart at the same time? Only as represented by the indwelling Spirit of God. Amen?

The woman at the well would not have been saved, either. Remember, she ran away from Jesus as He sat at Jacob’s well to tell others about Him.[8] He wasn’t in her heart.

And what about Paul? No indication that Jesus ever came into his heart on the Damascus road or anywhere else to save his wretched soul.

No folks, you are not saved by receiving Jesus into your heart. Conversion occurs when the sinner who is convicted under the preaching of the Gospel turns from his wickedness and vice and trusts Jesus Christ to save his wretched soul. Jesus, Who now sits at the right hand of the Father. Jesus, Who now works in the lives of His Own through His Holy Spirit. Jesus, Who never saved anyone by entering into them and living in their hearts. 

No sinner was ever saved by asking Jesus to come into his or her heart. Sinners are saved by trusting Jesus Christ to save their souls based on what He did on Calvary’s cross. And on that cross, He shed His blood for the remission of your sins and mine.

Those verses in the Bible that some could misinterpret as seeming to teach that you can be saved by asking Jesus into your heart have two disqualifying features: First, each of those verses is shown by its context to pertain to Christians only, never to lost people. Second, those verses must be understood in the light of crystal clear passages which declare that Jesus, right this minute, sits at the right hand of the Father on high, and therefore cannot be references to Christ’s physical body being in someone’s physical hearts.

The Holy Spirit of God perfectly represents the Lord Jesus Christ in the believer’s life. And when the Holy Spirit is given full sway to influence and direct, to teach and mature, to conform to the image of Christ that one in whom He dwells, it is said that Christ dwells in that man. Not literally, but figuratively, by the person of the Holy Spirit of God.

Now, sir, ma’am, based upon what I have taught and preached today, based upon what the Bible teaches, are you saved? Be careful how you answer, because if you claim to be saved as a result of asking Jesus into your heart, you are, in essence, a Roman Catholic in your beliefs about salvation being the result of an infusion of grace and not the outside-of-you justification of a sinner at a distance by faith.

But that’s another sermon.


[1] Lee Roberson, longtime pastor of Highland Park Baptist Church, Chattanooga, TN and founder of Tennessee Temple University and Seminary.

[2] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), page 534.

[3] Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzki & Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), page 105.

[4] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Unsearchable Riches Of Christ, An Exposition Of Ephesians 3, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), page 156.

[5] Acts 16.30

[6] Acts 2.37

[7] Acts 7.56

[8] John 4.6, 28

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