What happens when the Spirit strengthens the inner person? Paul says:
Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:17-19)
Strengthening in the inner being Christ will dwell in our hearts. It seems backward. Doesn’t it? Doesn’t Christ need to dwell in us before we can be strengthened from within? Of course, but Paul chooses his words carefully here. There is a difference between living in a house and making that house your home. Dwell comes from a word that means to settle down. Christ is in your heart, but a little sanctification is needed before he’ll feel at home.
Let’s use this heart-house analogy to think through the practical implications. Imagine that you own a home full of decorations and stuff you’ve collected over the years. One day, Jesus calls you up on the phone and says, “Hey, I’m coming over tonight.” So you go to work cleaning the place from top to bottom. Jesus is the most esteemed guest you’ll ever have, so you want the house to be immaculate. That’s great, but a clean house by itself does not make a fitting home for Christ. Let me show you.
Listen to this brief story Jesus told in Luke 11. He said:
“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.” (Luke 11:24-26)
What does that mean? Jesus described the person whose moral reform is shallow. He attempts to clean the house, but he does little more than creating the appearance of a clean house. This person doesn’t create a welcome environment for Christ. He merely makes the place more pleasant for the devils.
The devils love a clean house. They thoroughly enjoy people who attempt to tidy up their lives but do very little to make real, substantial changes. It’s like the church member who hides his beer when his pastor comes for a visit. The beer is still there, not that there’s anything inherently wrong with beer, but he gives the impression that he’s not a beer drinker.
If we are to create a fitting home for Christ in our hearts, then we must do more than a light dusting and a quick sweep of the floor. What good is a clean house if our computer history is full of pornographic material? Who cares if your collection of DVDs is straight and alphabetized if many of the films romanticize sin and ungodliness? Do you see what I’m getting at? By all appearances, we may look like good Christians, but the real question is, what’s in our hearts?
Consider what Peter says:
So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:1-3)
Before we dig into the Bible to better understand Christ and his will, to nourish our born-again souls, we need to remove all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander. What about our lust for prestige, materialism, and some of the other subtle sins? The heart is where we hide our sins, so that must be the place we fight our most aggressive battle against wickedness.