There are many kinds of Christians, but among those I’ve known are Lone Ranger Larry and Sunday Susan.
Lone Ranger Larry has been taught that the church is an invisible collection of individuals who happen to meet together on Sundays. He believes that God can be worshiped just as easily in one place as another and that churches are too institutional. He’s been taught as well that all that matters is an individual’s relationship with God. He claims he’s “spiritual” but just not “religious” and that he should have “no creed but Christ.”
Sunday Susan, on the other hand, goes to church in person. But that’s about all she does. She claims she believes, but she gives about 1 hour a week to God and thinks that’s enough. It’s almost as if Sunday worship is a debt she owes to God, and if only she’ll pay that small debt then He has to leave her alone the rest of the week.
In contrast to both Lone Ranger Larry and Sunday Susan, St. Paul’s vision of a true Christian is one who has a deep, personal connection with God through Jesus Christ His Son but who also contributes and even binds his individual Christian life to a local church so that in all things God may be glorified in the Church, which is the Body of Jesus Christ.
Paul outlines his deepest desire, his most profound prayer for the Ephesian church in verse 16, when he prays that they may “be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man.”
Because we are each to be strengthened in the inner man, Christianity must be personal, as God is personal. No one can have faith for you, and no one can love Jesus Christ for you. The inner man of each of you must be fed and strengthened. This inner man is your innermost being, your heart, your soul. It is, in essence, you. Not just a part of you or an optional accessory but the essence of who you are in your nature, desires, passions, and will.
The reason Paul wants the Ephesians to be strengthened in the inner man is so that Christ may dwell in their hearts by faith (verse 17.) This is how your inner man is strengthened: by Jesus Christ dwelling in your heart by faith. He is the only one who can bring God into your heart, for He Himself is God. His ministry was given so that we can dwell with God. For this reason, He was born, crucified, resurrected, and ascended.
This inner man who is to be strengthened so that Christ may dwell with you must be rooted and grounded in love (verse 17.) Along with Paul’s desire for the Ephesians to be strengthened in the inner man, he desires that they know the love of God (verses 18-19.) In fact, knowing the love of God and being strengthened in the inner man are part of the same process of knowing and loving God in faith that is at the center of our relationship with God. We all know that God is love and we have all heard of His immense love, but we must be rooted and grounded in it so that our lives proceed out of our life with Him, and not apart from it.
While Lone Ranger Larry may have been told about the love of God and even at times feel an emotional high from God, his inner man remains weak. In large part, this is because Lone Ranger Larry is in many ways individualistic and self-centered. What he really wants is to feel good about himself, even while he, and not God, continues to call the shots in his life.
This is often especially true in how he worships God and how he approaches the Church. When he does worship at church, he judges by how he feels. Because he does not really want to be submitted to God, he will not submit to the human authority that God has ordained in His Church. So he shops for God and hops from church to church. If he goes, he’s a consumer, and he’s in charge. He will not be accountable to anyone.
To him, church and God are invisible and God has little to say about culture, community, politics, etc. He is passively engaged with God, and therefore he wants to be entertained or wants a therapeutic church that will make him feel good.
But there is another side to Paul’s prayer, and there is another side to our life in God. Do we seek God only as individuals, each seeking God in his or her own way? Are we to be Lone Ranger Larrys? In our relationship with God, is it all about us?
Paul provides the reason for God’s Great Mystery of Salvation that he is unfolding in Ephesians 1-3: it is to give glory to God. The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism is justly famous.
- What is the chief end of man?
- To glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.
To this God, who has now revealed His plan of reconciliation and salvation through His Son – to Him be glory, Paul says in verse 21. What Paul actually says is, “to Him be glory in the church.”
One of the mistakes we make, in reading the Bible so that our inner man may be strengthened, is that we read it as if it were written first and foremost to us as individuals. Because God is writing to each of us and desires that each of us be renewed in the inner man, it is appropriate to read the Bible in a personal, individual, and devotional sense.
But Paul is actually writing to the church at Ephesus and not just individual Christians. In fact, most of Paul’s letters are written to churches, and those that aren’t are almost all written to church leaders about how to lead the church. When Paul writes in verse 16 that he desires that God “would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man,” the word you is plural. Paul is assuming that God works in the Church as an entire body, and not in isolated individuals.
We understand that God wants us to dwell in His presence, in His society, but then we balk when He says that for just such a reason He created the Church, the Body of Jesus Christ on earth. Even the most intimate and personal parts of our life in God are corporate because they involve the Body of Christ, and not just me myself or you yourself.
“To Him be glory in the church,” Paul says in verse 21, just as in verse 9 he said “that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.”
Who are we? We are the Body of Christ. Together, we are the Temple of the Holy Spirit.
But our friend Sunday Susan has a few problems of her own, just as Lone Ranger Larry did. She may believe that going to church is all that matters. She may, over time and without intending it, think that ritual and ceremony is what really matters, and not the truth in the heart. Just as Lone Ranger Larry will weaken the church, Sunday Susan will produce weak, dead, country club churches. She may allow heresy to develop without even knowing it. If she goes out of habit or to be seen or because she feels someone thinks she should, then she’s not doing much better than Lone Ranger Larry, is she?
St. Paul has given you 2 different ways of seeing your highest calling in life. There are two different ways of seeing Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians.
So which is it? Should we be more focused on the health of our inner, individual man, or should we be more interested in worshiping and ministering in the corporate Church and glorifying God?
Of course the answer is: BOTH!
What pleases God and what glorifies Him is Christians who are renewed in their individual inner man by serving as ministers in His Church and ministers in His Church who have been equipped to serve by being strengthened in their inner man.
Resolution and Point for Meditation:
Do you have a tendency to be more of a Lone Ranger Larry or a Sunday Susan? Meditate on your desire to worship and serve God. Do you tend to neglect either what God is doing in His Church or what He desires to do in your heart? Spend some time prayerfully considering in which of these ways He may be calling You to glorify Him. Resolve to spend some time praying to be both renewed in the inner man and to glorify God by your ministry in His Church.
Prayer: Father, we bow our knees before You, because of Your eternal purpose which You have accomplished through Your Son, Jesus Christ, in the Church. I ask that You would glorify Yourself by strengthening me in the inner man and by making Your wisdom known through the way Your Church loves and lives. Amen.
© 2015 Fr. Charles Erlandson