Praying for the Inner Man: D. A. Carson on Ephesians 3:14–21

huy-phan-100866For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith
— Ephesians 3:14–17 —

When I preached through Paul’s prayers a few years ago, I read D.A. Carson’s A Call for Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His PrayersIn that book, Carson recounts how we should think about Paul praying for the “inner man” (Ephesians 3:16). That section struck a deep nerve with me, and as I prepare to preach that passage this Sunday, I share it with you.

Most of us in the West have not suffered great persecution, but all of us are getting older. In fact, sometimes we can see in elderly folk something of the process that Paul has in mind. We all know senior saints who, as their physical strength is reduced, nevertheless become more and more steadfast and radiant. Their memories may be fading; their arthritis may be nearly unbearable; their ventures beyond their small rooms or apartments may be severely curtailed. But somehow they live as if they already have one foot in heaven. As their outer being weakens, their inner being runs from strength to strength. Conversely, we know elderly folk who, so far as we can tell, are not suffering from any serious organic decay, yet as old age weighs down on them they nevertheless become more and more bitter, caustic, demanding, spiteful, and introverted. It is almost as if the civilizing restraints imposed on them by cultural expectations are no longer adequate. In their youth, they had sufficient physical stamina to keep their inner being somewhat capped. Now, with reserves of energy diminishing, what they really are in heir inner being is comin out.

Even for those of us who are still some distance from being senior citizens, the restrictions and increasing limitations of the outer being make themselves felt. My body is not what it was twenty years ago. Every time I take a shower, a few more hairs disappear down the drain never to be seen again. I have arthritis in two or three joints; I have to watch my intake of calories; my reaction times are a little slower than they used to be; in a couple years I shall need reading glasses. And someday, if this old world lasts long enough, I should waste away, and my outer man will be laid to rest in a hole 6 feet deep. Yet inwardly, Hall insists, in the inner man, we Christians are being “renewed day by day.”

The Christians ultimate hope is for the resurrection body. But until we receive that gift, it is our inner being that is being strengthened by God’s power. In a culture where so many people are desperate for good health, but not demonstrably hungry for the transformation of the inner being, Christians are in urgent need of following Paul’s example and praying for displays of God’s Mighty power in the domain of our being that controls our character and prepares us for heaven. (184–85)

Few reflections on prayer or the spiritual life have arrested my attention like these words. Why? Because as a man still young in ministry and relatively young in my Christian walk (compared to those who have walked with Christ for 30, 40, an 80 years), I wonder, “Is my outward maturity more a mark of spiritual strength or a good memory? Do I obey the commands of God because faith motivates love, or because disobedience would impugn my reputation?” Continue reading

Grace on Display: In Paul’s Ministry and Christ’s Church (Ephesians 3:1–13)


Grace on Display: In Paul’s Ministry and Christ’s Church

Most of the time when we read the Bible we seek to make direct application to ourselves. Because the Bible is for our instruction and sanctification, this is absolutely right. Sometimes in Scripture, however, we find that the first application is not to ourselves. Ephesians 3:1–13 is one of those instances, and yet it is also a passage bubbling over with grace for the believer.

As I preached on Ephesians 3:1–13, I sought to show the grace of God in Paul’s ministry, the grace of God’s in Paul’s gospel, and the grace that culminates in Christ’s Church. In short, even though this passage Paul reflects about God’s grace to him, it can strengthen our confidence in God’s grace as we understand how God has worked in church history and in what God intends for the church today.

Because my sermon deviated so much from my original notes, I am not including those this week. But you can find the sermon online. Discussion questions and additional resources can be found below.  Continue reading

More Than Could Be Asked or Imagined: Four Surprising Ways Christ and His Church Fulfilled the Promises to Israel

ben-white-197668When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
— Ephesians 3:4–6 —

In Ephesians 3, Paul explains how the unity of Jews and Gentiles in the church was a mystery hidden to the Old Testament people of God. In the strongest fashion he explains how Christ’s cross created “one new man” (2:15), tearing down the wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile. The result in Ephesians 3:6 is that Gentiles are “fellow heirs” (sugklēronomos) , “fellow members of the body”(sussōma), and “fellow sharers (summetoxa) of the promise in Christ Jesus”.

In these three desciptions, Paul uses the strongest terms to explain that the status of Jews and Gentiles is equal in Christ. No longer are the people of Israel advantaged over the Gentiles, as it was under the Sinai Covenant. Now in Christ Jews and Gentiles share equal statues. As Paul teaches, both are condemned for their sin and thus both redeemed by God’s free gift of grace—not by law-keeping. This makes all participants in Christ’s new covenant equals, brothers and sisters, co-heirs with their Lord.

Still, to get a handle on this newness in Christ, it is equally important to understand how the apostolic teaching was new—new to the first century believers and new to anyone today entering the church today. On that newness, Clinton Arnold gives a succinct outline of the ways in which the plan of God was previously unknown but now revealed through the gospel.

Under four points, he identifies (1) the means, (2) the Mosaic law, (3) the manner, and (4) the magnitude as constituting something different and greater than could be seen by the Old Testament saints. Here’s what Arnold writes (Ephesians, 190), Continue reading

How Does the Church Glorify God?

church Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. 
— Ephesians 3:20-21 —

A close reading of Scripture shows that God pursues his glory in all areas of life. In creation and redemption, heaven and earth, the world was made to bring him glory. It is not surprising, therefore, to find Paul praying that God would get glory in the church. But what does it mean?

What does Paul mean when he prays, “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations” From the context of Ephesians, I would suggest there are at least three ways the church uniquely glorifies God.  Continue reading

A Display of Glory: The Wizard of Westwood, The Wisdom of God, and The Witness of Your Church

On June 4 of this year, coaching legend John Wooden, the Wizard of Westwood died at the age of 99. He holds the unique place in college basketball history as the only coach to win 10 National Titles–including 7 in a row– and 4 undefeated seasons. At one point, his UCLA Bruins won 88 games straight.  He is hailed as college basketball’s greatest coach. No one has accomplished on the hardwood what John Wooden did.

But here is what is interesting: All of his exploits were accomplished by other people. As a coach, he never once, stepped on the floor, picked up the ball, or checked into the game. As a coach, he never had a triple-double, made a game-winning shot, or came through with a clutch free throw (though he could have: in his playing days, he once made 134 in a row). As a coach, he called the plays and led his team, but his authority was from the sidelines. So, his achievements, indeed his glory, was accomplished by and through others.

So it is in the church. God’s glory is not seen directly. We do not come to church to see God descend in a cloud or pillar of fire. We do not look for a mystical vision to experience God, nor do we anticipate a voice from heaven splitting the sky. That is not how God reveals himself in our age. Rather, when we speak of seeing God’s glory, Scripture calls us to see it in the life and ministry of the church.

This was Paul’s point in Ephesians 3:8-10. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul gives us some amazing insight into God’s intention for the church. And the first thing he says about the church is that it exists to display the grace and the wisdom of God.

In Ephesians 3:8, Paul says that grace was given to him as an apostle, so that he would preach the unsearchable riches of Christ. In this singular statement, you can see three keys elements of biblical theology–grace, the gospel, and glory.  Grace to proclaim God’s message, the message of the gospel, the gospel of God’s glorious riches in Christ. Paul continues and says that the reason why he was to preach the gospel of Christ was “to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things.”

Here Paul uses a term that he uses only in a couple places. The term is “Mystery” and it means something that was once hidden but now is revealed. It is not something mysterious or unknowable. The word should not be associated with a Whodunit novel or the “mystery meat” at your school cafeteria. Rather, it has to do with God’s plan of redemption which has finally been revealed in Christ and the church.

Ephesians 3:10 says, “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places.” In other words, God’s purpose for the church is to broadcast his grace, wisdom, and power into the world. And not only to the world but to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places. In other words, angels subscribe to TBN, or at least the church channel. As 1 Peter 1:12 tells us, “angels long to look into these things.” They are watching what Christ is doing in his Church, and they are learning about God’s glory.  Because remember: Angels cover their faces in the presence of God (cf Isaiah 6:1-8). In their sinless perfection, they cannot stand to behold his glory; it is too great. And for the those fallen angels, their appreciation is even less acute.  So “rulers and authorities” watch in amazement the church, some in awe, others in honor, but all watch to see the unfolding mystery of God’s wisdom in the church, a wisdom that reflects the glory and grace of God.

Therefore, as Christ’s church, we are called to live life as though we are in the display window of Christ’s department store. How we live will determine whether or not the world and our children want anything to do with Christ or not. This is no small matter!  How we constitute, assemble, and participate in our churches is not a peripheral item on God’s agenda.

God intends for us to display his glory and wisdom in our local assemblies, so we ought to do all we can, in the power of the Spirit, to be High-Definition, 3-D Wide Screens of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and not a Black & White TV’s, with Rabbit Ears, and bad reception. Because the problem is not in the message of the gospel (cf Rom 1:16), but it may be how we receive it and display it on a weekly basis.

Here is the bottom line, if we are going to reach the lost, it means living more radical lives for Christ. And radical doesn’t mean bigger, cooler, and more events, programs, or activities. It doesn’t mean changing formats or improving advertising. It means picking up our cross daily and following after Christ– loving one another, doing life together, and carrying the message of the salvation to everyone we meet, losing our lives so that others might gain life in Christ.

If we do that, we will display the wisdom of God as all of our daily activities testify to the gospel of Christ and give off the pleasing aroma of his grace.

May God be pleased to purify his bride in our generation, as we seek to display his grace and wisdom to a watching world!

Soli Deo Gloria, dss