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Faith Alive! | Commandments of Christ 4

4. Concerning Christ

From issue 80 (February 2005)

WHAT an aim and what an honour! Paul tells us that through our attitude and our life, Jesus will live in our hearts. The word “dwell” here means literally to live – it’s the same word that is used in the Gospels to tell us that Jesus lived in Nazareth. Paul is talking about something very real in our lives

Step 1 – Have faith …

The letter to the Ephesians is a letter that mixes understanding of life now with pictures of the kingdom. In chapter 1 we think of Jesus redeeming us so that we have a future inheritance. In chapter 2 we learn of God’s grace that saves us and so, at the end of the chapter, we are being built into a dwelling temple or a dwelling place for God. In chapter 3 Paul makes it clear that this also applies to the Gentiles and he prays that they might fully know the love of Christ. This all sets the scene for the final chapters of the book which deal with the way that we should live our lives. Paul’s prayer that the Ephesians may be strengthened so that Jesus will dwell in their hearts is just before the instructions for living. Indeed, chapter 4 begins with a plea to “walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called”.

So we have a bit of the jigsaw – that to enable Jesus to dwell in our heart, we must live our lives in a way that will please God.

Step 2 – Remember it’s a battle …

The second piece of the jigsaw is found elsewhere in Paul’s writings. He shows that Christian living is a battle that takes place within us. We have to get rid of our worldly side by trying to think and do the things that Jesus would have done. In his other letters Paul says that this is putting on a new man – literally trying to shape ourselves in the image of Jesus. Of course, this is not something that we can do alone which is why Paul, back in Ephesians, prayed that they would be strengthened in their inner man, in order to achieve this.

In Romans Paul portrays this battle as the struggle between being “carnally-minded” and “spiritually-minded”. We have to win – we are either of Christ or we are not. If we are trying to be more spiritually-minded, we are allowing God to be at work in our lives. If we are spiritually-minded, then Christ lives in us. Romans 8:9-11, in F F Bruce’s Expanded Paraphrase, tells us:

“But you, my friends, do not follow the promptings of the old nature; you live in the sphere of the Spirit, if indeed God’s Spirit dwells within you. Of course, if anyone does not have Christ’s Spirit, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then the body may still be subject to death because of sin, but the Spirit you have received is the Spirit of life, because of the righteousness with which God has invested you. But if the Spirit that dwells within you is the Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, then He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will impart life even to your mortal bodies through the Spirit who dwells within you.”

Step 3 – Realise we need to change so listen to the word …

But do we really need to change? It is clearly our choice as to whether we decide to try to become like Christ. But what is the alternative? Jesus said that the heart of man was full of “evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:19).

I can’t imagine Jesus wanting to live in a place full of sinful things. As always, Jesus shows us the way. In the Parable of the Sower Jesus tells us how we can become a place in which the word of God can grow. He calls this place the “good ground”:

“But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15).

The key is to hear the word and to keep the commands and the result is that we bear fruit. We could think of the fruits that we are growing as the fruit of the spirit. These are all characteristics which Jesus had, and to grow them is to develop Christlike character attributes.

Step 4 – Actively replace the bad with the good …

So it’s about us actively growing – a positive thing, not just cutting out the bad things. Jesus told us a story about a heart that had not been prepared to receive him – a heart which had tried to do the right thing initially but only gone halfway. In this parable (Matthew 12:43-45) a house is swept clean of all the bad things, but the owner does not fill the house with good things in their place, and at the end the state of the house is even worse. This is exactly the case with us. We need to remove bad things from our heart but this is only successful if we replace them with good things. This will only happen if the motivation for removing the bad things is to glorify God.

Step 5 – Keep motivated …

Keeping our faith strong will help to keep us motivated. We need to have faith in Jesus who has already achieved the victory; faith that God is at work in our lives to change us now; and faith in the future, that we shall be changed to become immortal and incorruptible, in order to share in the glorious kingdom age.

The full picture

From the beginning of the world God wanted to dwell with His people. The God that walked with mankind in the Garden of Eden, the God that didn’t want to dwell in a temple made with hands, is the same God we worship now and who will be “all in all”. The entire earth will be filled with the knowledge of His glory. It is to this end that we are being changed now.

“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:19-22).

And here we see again the same word that is used about Christ living, dwelling, in our hearts, but this time we are looking to the future. We are being built now as a “habitation” for God – a place for God to live. To reach this kingdom picture, we need to allow Christ to live in our hearts: “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

Abigail Lear

 

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