14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
20 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, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. – Ephesians 3:14-21 ESV
Paul had been given the responsibility “to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things,” (Ephesians 3:9 ESV). The mystery Paul was tasked with revealing was the church, the body of Christ that was to be comprised of people from all the nations of the earth. It would combine both Jews and Gentiles into a single, unified family of adopted sons and daughters of God. And the Jews and Gentiles who made up the church in Ephesus had been woven together into God’s glorious, multicolored tapestry of redemption.
And with that thought in mind, Paul offers up a powerful prayer on behalf of his brothers and sisters in Ephesus. He knew that their unity was under assault. He was well aware of the pressures they faced, living in a pagan culture where their faith in Christ made them outliers and, at times, social pariahs. Followers of Christ were often considered counter-cultural and even a threat to the status quo. Many of the believers in Ephesus had walked away from their former faith systems and, in doing so, had alienated family and friends. By placing their faith in Christ they had turned their backs on the false gods of the prevailing culture and were attempting to trust their lives to a Savior they had never met and a God they couldn’t see.
So, Paul shares with them the content of his prayer for them. In doing so, he lets them in on another secret or mystery. While they had been chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), redeemed through His blood, forgiven of their sins (Ephesians 1:7), promised an inheritance (Ephesians 1:10), saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8), and reconciled to God (Ephesians 2:16), they were not yet complete.
Their salvation, while fully paid for by Christ and sealed by the presence of the Spirit of God, was to be constantly evolving. Their faith in God was to be constantly increasing as their knowledge of Him continually grew. Salvation was not a static, once-in-a-lifetime experience, but a dynamic process that resulted in the ongoing transformation of the believer’s life into the likeness of Christ.
There was to be a progression from immaturity to maturity and spiritual infancy to adulthood. Peter put it this way: “Like newborn babies, you must crave pure spiritual milk so that you will grow into a full experience of salvation” (1 Peter 2:2 NLT). In the very next chapter of this letter, Paul states virtually the same thing. He describes the role of Christ-appointed apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.
Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. – Ephesians 4:12-14 NLT
For both Peter and Paul, faith in Christ was about growth in Christlikeness. It was not enough to simply know about Christ. The Christian was expected to become like Christ – to bear His likeness. In fact, the first time the term “Christian” is used in reference to Christ’s followers is in the book of Acts.
For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. – Acts 11:26 ESV
The Greek word for Christians is Χριστιανός (transliteration: Christianos; phonetic pronunciation: khris-tee-an-os’) and combines Christos (anointed) with the suffix meaning “follower”; i.e. follower of Christ (Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary). So, Christians were followers of the anointed one. But Jesus expected His disciples to do far more than follow Him. At one point He told them, ““A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master” (Matthew 10:24-25 ESV).
C. S. Lewis described this Christ-emulating behavior as only he could
“Now the whole offer which Christianity makes is this: that we can, if we let God have His way, come to share in the life of Christ. If we do, we shall then be sharing a life which was begotten, not made, which always existed and always will exist. Christ is the Son of God. If we share in this kind of life we also shall be sons of God. We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us. He came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has – by what I call ‘good infection.’ Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christ is simply nothing else.” – C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
But Paul knew that growth in Christlikeness was impossible without divine aid. That’s why he prayed that God, “according to the riches of his glory” (Ephesians 3:16 ESV), would empower the Ephesian believers “with inner strength through his Spirit” (Ephesians 3:16 NLT). Paul makes it clear that Christlikeness is the work of the Spirit of God. It can’t be self-manufactured or produced through human effort.
Belief in Christ was to result in behavior that emulated that of Christ. But that kind of behavior modification was only possible through the indwelling presence of God’s Spirit. His power alone could transform mere mortals into sons and daughters of God whose lives reflected the character of Christ. It began on the inside, in the inner being. It was not about outward modification of behavior but about the transformation of the heart. Paul’s prayer was that the Ephesians might know what it was like to have Christ dwell in their hearts through faith. Unlike other religions, Christianity is focused on the “inner” man. It is not about adhering to a list of do’s and don’ts or keeping a codified compendium of rules and regulations. No, Christianity is about the power of God transforming the hearts of men so that they might model the life of Christ – from the inside out.
ultimately, Paul wanted the Ephesians to know just how much God loved them. They had been given the Holy Spirit so that the nature of Christ might be revealed in them and the fullness of God might be experienced by them. Their God was not distant and unknowable. He had saved them so that He might have an intimate and personal relationship with them. And it all began with His Son. Paul told the believers in Colossae, “in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority” (Colossians 2:9-10 NLT). And Christ had taken up residence in their lives through the indwelling presence of the Spirit.
Paul wanted the Ephesian believers to grasp the full significance of their salvation and to experience the full force of God’s love for them. Paul didn’t want them to settle for less. His prayer was that they would “experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully”… and “be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God” (Ephesians 3:19 NLT).
And he closed out his prayer by declaring his firm assurance that God was ready, willing, and able to do all that he had requested.
Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. – Ephesians 3:20 NLT
It wasn’t a matter of whether God could or would answer Paul’s prayer. The whole purpose for the indwelling presence of the Spirit of God was so that the children of God might be transformed into the likeness of the Son of God – all for the glory of God. And that’s why Paul ends by declaring, “Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:21 NLT).
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.