July 26, 2015

Strengthened in Your Inner Being

Passage: 2 Samuel 11:1-15, Psalm 14, Ephesians 3:14-21, John 6:1-21
Service Type:

I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.

The German composer J.S. Bach is reported to have said, “If I can’t get my coffee three times a day, I shrivel up like a piece of roast goat.” (The reference to coffee we get—it’s the roast goat image that may give pause.) Ah, if only life were this simple—a quick pick-me-up like coffee and I can keep on going.

Perhaps you have come across the word “zeitgeist.” It is a German word meaning “the spirit of the age or time.” Dr. John Steel, among other appointments, is a senior fellow at Cardus a think tank dedicated to the renewal of North American social architecture. About the spirit of the age we live in he wrote, “Ours is increasingly a culture without foundation—highly susceptible to every wind and wave. Insecurity is writ large into the modern psyche.”

Clearly Canada’s cultural foundation has shifted. Christianity is being marginalized. Take the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding the town council in Saguenay, Quebec practise of beginning its meetings by reciting the Lord’s Prayer. The ruling that effectively put an end to this practise stated that “the state’s duty of religious neutrality results from an evolving interpretation of freedom of conscience and religion.” When did Canadians agree that the state has a duty to be neutral about religion? Further, that our culture is increasingly without foundation is evident in what the Supreme Court describes as “an evolving interpretation of freedom of conscience and religion.” What is the ground of this interpretation?

The preamble of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law. Clearly the supremacy of God has taken a back seat to the rule of law. Can the rule of law hold things together by itself? Is the “rule of law” simply that a ruling was made?

Ephesus was believed to be the fourth largest city in the first century Roman world. If you strolled through the town of Ephesus you would come upon one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World; the Temple of Artemis, also called the Temple of Diana, because some of these goddesses and gods went by Greek and Roman names. The Roman world was replete with gods and goddesses; it was a world of competing foundations for life. What held it together was the law of Rome backed by its military might; a peace won by domination.

In both of these worlds—first century Ephesus and twenty-first century Canada—the gospel makes its clarion call. The gospel calls believers to build on the only foundation that will never crumble or give way—our Lord Jesus Christ; it calls for the believer’s allegiance to the King of kings and Lord of Lords. What is it that we need in order to navigate the shifting foundations of our era? I suggest to you that it is what Paul understood believers needed to navigate the tides of that Roman world. We find it in what Paul prayed for the church. “I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.”

In the world these Christians in Ephesus faced Paul prays for them to be strengthened in their “inner being”, their “inner man” (woman). He wants them to be fortified against the attacks, the difficulties, the disappointments and dangers that life hurls at them. He wants them to be fortified against the propaganda of a world that sneers at truth and sets clever falsehood in its place. He doesn’t tell them to strengthen themselves. Regardless of how strong they might be in themselves (or might not be), he insists they need an infusion of strength from outside themselves, specifically from the Lord whose people they claim to be. He prays ardently that Jesus Christ, will reside in them and preside in them so very thoroughly that his presence within them will be their strength, and they will know it.

I invite you to reflect with me on being strengthened in your inner being.

1. The apostle is so very concerned about the strengthening of the inner person, in the first place, because he knows that life has to be faced, ultimately, by the individual and her Lord. Only you can be you. On the one hand, no one wants to minimize the comfort we receive from those who gather around us and support us when upheavals come upon us. Few things are worse than being abandoned just when we need others as we have never needed them before. On the other hand, however much our friends may sustain us (and they do), all of us are aware that there is a dimension to us, an innermost crevice, to which no one else has access. There remains an innermost recess in all of us that not even the best friend or the most loving spouse can penetrate.

We know this when we try to comfort a bereaved friend. We know that our care and concern—care and concern that is genuinely helpful—can’t ultimately access the innermost recesses of the friend’s being. And it isn’t only at bereavement. We wish we could bear the hurt of a loved one yet always know there is a portion we cannot touch even as we share what we can.

If loved ones cannot access a person’s innermost heart, then who can? One alone can; namely, the one who said, “Abide in me and I shall keep on abiding in you.” He alone can “abide” in us. Those moments come when we are startled at our inability to reach someone who seems so very close to us yet is ultimately out of reach. The most effective thing any of us will be able to do at that time is pray, even pray with bowed knee, that Jesus Christ will strengthen her “inner being” as he dwells even deeper in her – to use Paul’s language.

All of us need such strengthening. It ought not surprise us that we feel stress; life is ceaseless stress. We are released from our employment. We fall ill. We are rebuffed. We disappoint ourselves. Every day brings a surprise, something that we haven’t been able to anticipate and therefore that we haven’t been able to prepare ourselves for. It comes upon us without warning and moves on quickly. We are left with the after-effects, as unable to understand it all as we are unable to shed the after-effects. We should always remember that we are spiritually most vulnerable when we are emotionally most wounded. God through the Apostle Paul has given us great insight to pray for the strengthening of the inner being by the Spirit of God .

2 Yet the apostle has more in mind. In his discussion of the inner being in other letters Paul contrasts the new self (man) with the old self (Romans 6:6; Colossians 3:9-10). The new self is who we are in view of Christ’s coming to us and taking us into his own life. The Gospel-promises insist that all who keep company with Jesus Christ are given a new nature, a new name, a new future. The new man or woman is the creature God intended from the start, unmarred by sin and corruption and self-contradiction. This is who we are as men and women “in Christ”.

But this isn’t all that we are, for the old self, the creature defaced by sin and difficult to live with; this is still with us. To be sure, the old being doesn’t determine our ultimate identity: Christ does this. Still, the old being clings; it lingers. And it is loathsome.

In the Roman Empire of antiquity, Roman authorities displayed limitless imagination and cruelty in punishing law-breakers. One of the most hideous punishments was that of strapping a corpse to the back of a law-breaker. The criminal had to carry it around for a day or two or three as a judge decided. The corpse was heavy. It was awkward. It inhibited movement. It always interfered with what the person was supposed to be doing. Worst of all, it was revolting.

In the 7th chapter of his letter to the Christians in Rome , Paul glories in the new life that arises in God’s people as they live in the company of Jesus Christ. Then with shocking abruptness he deplores the life of the old self, the creature of sin that all believers have repudiated – he deplores this as he cries, “O wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?” On the one hand he knows and glories in and is ceaselessly grateful for the gift of new life at Christ’s hand. On the other hand he’s only too aware that the old man slain at the cross and therefore dead; this corpse is strapped to his back, and it isn’t pretty.

Luther, with his customary earthiness, says that you and I are new creatures in Christ to be sure, but the old man/woman won’t die quietly. The corpse still twitches, says Luther.

Temptation never ceases to pound on our door. Sometimes we open the door a crack “just to get a better look at it”, only to find that we can’t get the door shut again. Eventually we are startled, then staggered, and finally sick at heart to realize that we could hate someone so intensely that seeing him undergo adversity would make our day.

Have you ever noticed that we don’t envy what strangers have; we don’t envy what the super-rich have? We envy what our very best friends or family members have. We begin making tangential comments, snide remarks, passive-aggressive remarks whose poison tips we both relish and deny at the same time. Before long another relationship has gone down, and we still manage to blame the party we have slain.

Yet we mustn’t stop here, for in Romans 7, as soon as Paul cries out “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” he exclaims “Thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ”. There is deliverance. Not instantaneous, not without a measure of pain on our part as lingering depravity is burned out of us, not without the occasional lapse whenever we become complacent; still, he who is our inner self—Jesus Christ—and who is ever strengthening us; he is at work within us to free us from that burden.

Note what Paul prays: “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.” He prays that Christ’s presence in our hearts may have an every-expanding, growing, enlarged affect describes as being “rooted and grounded in love.”

3. The apostle has one more thing in mind: in his second letter to the Corinthians Paul contrasts the inner self with the outer self. The inner person is who we are, who we are in ourselves because of who we are in Christ. The outer person is what we are deemed to be by the 101 grids or diagnostic tools or measuring rods by which we are measured. We are all measured by our monetary net worth, by our level of formal education, by our political affiliations, by our social sophistication (so-called), by our physical beauty (or ugliness), by the labels that adorn the clothes we wear, by the smoothness with which we can handle ourselves at cocktail parties and assorted social events, by the whiteness of our teeth and the non-whiteness of our hair, even by and our sense of humour.
It’s as if so many points, one to five, are awarded in each category, the accumulation of points determining our place on the social scale. By means of the social scale we are regarded as “losers” or perchance “winners” or, more likely, something in between. Our place on the grid determines whether we are to be flattered or forgotten. Yet Christians know that our place on the social scale is a matter of utter arbitrariness. If the grid by which we are assessed is changed, our place on the scale changes. Furthermore, the social grid deployed today wasn’t used yesterday, and another grid will replace it next decade.

Then who are we? Who was the apostle Paul? He tells us that when he went to Corinth he was laughed at because of his speech impediment and his scrawny physique. He replied to the Corinthians, “I am what I am by the grace of God.” (1st Cor. 15:10) And what was that? To the Christians in Colosse he wrote, “Our real life is hid with Christ in God.” In other words, who we are is determined by Christ’s possession of us. This is known only to God; it is known to us insofar as God reflects it back to us. But make no mistake: it’s real. It’s real beyond the unreality of the “outer person”.

Paul prays for the strengthening of the inner person because he knows that if we become preoccupied with the outer person, we shall deny our fellowship with Christ; we’ll forfeit our integrity; we’ll conform ourselves to social expectation and sell ourselves.

Are we afraid of looking like losers? Tell me: did our Lord look like a winner when he was executed with criminals at the city garbage dump? In the company of Jesus Christ there are neither winners nor losers, neither weak nor strong, neither successes nor failures, neither the flatterable nor the forgettable. There are simply children of God whom Jesus their elder brother cherishes. His grip on them makes them who they are, determines a truth about them that no social arbitrariness can undo. In view of the fact that it can’t be undone before God, we shouldn’t act as if we can undo it before ourselves or before the world. As our inner person is strengthened, the truth and reality of who we are in Christ sinks deeper into us and increasingly characterizes our thinking, our doing, our aspirations.

I began this message pointing out our experience of living in a culture increasingly without foundations. As we navigate the changing landscape that seem to come fast and furious we may wonder if the strengthening of our inner being will be sufficient for the winds that blow. Our confidence rests in the one whose grip on us ultimately determines the truth about us. When you pray this always include the benediction—“Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine …” Amen.