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Praying For the Person Who Has Everything - Part 5

Tom Pennington • Ephesians 1:15-23

  • 2007-11-25 AM
  • Ephesians
  • Sermons


I encourage you to turn with me again to Ephesians 1 as we continue to study Paul's magnificent prayer for the saints in Ephesus, as well as for us. This week I came across a story that was told by Kent Hughes, the story of an incident that occurred here in Texas in the little town of Ithasca, Texas. Just before the outbreak of World War II, there was a tragic fire in the local school there in the little town. Unbelievably, it took the lives of some 263 children from that town. As you would imagine, there was hardly a single family that was untouched by the tragedy. It was only after the war, years later, that they decided to rebuild the school, and they built it, the new school, they boasted, with the finest sprinkler system in the world. The citizens of Ithasca were proud of their new school facilities. Honor students were appointed the task of giving guided tours, and they always pointed out, as they passed that area on the tour, that wonderful, advanced, high-technological sprinkler system that they had installed, the best that money could buy.

Seven years later, after that new school had been completed, the town had grown so much that the city fathers decided it was time to expand, to add a new wing to that facility and so they hired a firm to do just that. And as the workers came in and began the task of building the new building, they discovered something that absolutely shocked the entire community of Ithasca. What they discovered was that their advanced sprinkler system, the finest that money could buy, had never been connected. If there had been a fire during those seven years, the system would not have worked. It could not have worked because it was not connected to the source of water.

As I thought about that story, I was reminded that, sadly, many Christians think that their problem, the problem with the weak and powerless life that they live as a Christian, that that is somehow related to the fact that they have never been connected to God's power. They desire power for living. They pray for power. They seek God's power. But they never seem to enjoy it. That's not Paul's concern. What Paul tells us here in Ephesians 1 is that we are already connected to God's power. That we have all of the power from God that we need, already at work in us, and that our real deficiency is not a shortage of power, but a shortage of knowledge about the power that we already have. And that's what he prays for these saints. Let me read you a portion of his prayer. I'll begin in verse 18 of Ephesians 1, at the portion that we're studying together today. Verse 18,

"I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all."

This magnificent prayer of the apostle Paul serves as a pattern for us, as we pray for spiritual growth, both for our own, as well as for the spiritual growth of others. Over the last few weeks we've been looking at the content of Paul's prayer. What exactly was it that he prayed? Well, the focus, we've discovered, of Paul's prayer here, is for spiritual illumination. That's what Paul prayed for them, and that's what he prays for us. And that's what he encourages us to pray as well, for spiritual illumination.

What is illumination? Well, I've given you J.I. Packer's definition, and I like it best I think. He describes illumination as a work within us that enables us to grasp and to love, get those two words, to grasp and to love the revelation that is there before us in the biblical text. Illumination is thus the applying of God's revealed truth to our hearts so that (for this purpose) we grasp as reality for ourselves what the sacred text sets forth. I've described it to you or illustrated it to you by God turning on the light as you look at a passage of Scripture. As you understand what it means, it's as if the Holy Spirit turns on the light and the truth of that passage grips your heart in a mind-changing, life-changing way. That's illumination. And Paul is here praying for illumination for us with two ends in mind. He's praying that we will have illumination to an increasing knowledge of God Himself. Notice the end of verse 17: Ephesians 1:17, "… in the knowledge of Him."

I want you to have illumination so that you grow in your true spiritual apprehension and perception of God. And, he adds, not only an increasing knowledge of God Himself, but also an increasing knowledge of God's blessings. In verses 18 to 23 Paul singles out three spiritual blessings that he believes we consistently fail to grasp. Three spiritual blessings that we just don't get. And he prays that we will get them, that we'll understand them, that they'll be life-changing. He prays that God will grant us illumination so that we can better understand these three rich spiritual blessings that are ours in Christ.

Notice what they are, verse 18. "What is the hope of His calling," that's number one. "what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints" number two, and verse 19 number three, "what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe." We've looked at the hope of His calling. When God called us to Himself in the gospel, when we heard the truth about Christ, God was in that good news drawing us to Himself.

And when He drew us to Himself, when He called us, He gave us a hope, a hope of eternal life, a hope of forgiveness. And we need to understand the hope to which He called us. Last week we looked at the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints. This isn't about our inheritance, what we get. This is about what God gets. We are God's inheritance. We discovered last week that we as His people are His treasured possession, and Paul says you need to understand this. You need to understand what God has made you to Himself.

Today we come to the third and final of the spiritual blessings that Paul is deeply concerned that we understand. And based on the space he gives this third one, it is absolutely crucial. He begins talking about it in verse 19, and it runs through the end of the chapter. It is the greatness of His power. Paul wants us to comprehend; he wants us to understand through illumination the greatness of God's power. Notice verse 19: catching a few words from verse 18, so you get the flow of the context,

"I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know … [verse 19] what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe,"

Now on the face of it that is an odd request. I mean if you were praying for yourself, and if you happened to bring up the issue of God's power, you, and I as well, would probably pray differently. We would not pray, Lord help me understand Your power that's already at work within me. What would we pray? Give me power to fight the sin that's in my heart. Give me strength. Give me power. I don't have it. Give it to me. That's a problem. That's out of step with what Paul is teaching here. But more tragically, I'm afraid most of us have never even thought about asking God for anything connected to His power. That's because we don't truly understand our own human weakness and frailty. We don't understand the enemies that are allied against us. Because most of us, and literally I mean most of us, were raised in man-centered, Arminian type churches, we have the idea that there is resident within our own sinful hearts the basic power to obey and serve God. Like the Galatians we somehow think that having begun in the Spirit, we are now being perfected by the flesh. God started it, but thank You God for saving me, thank You for bringing me with Your power into salvation, and now I'll take care of the rest.

So, before we can examine the provision of God's power that is already ours in Ephesians 1:19, I want us to step back and first of all consider our need of God's power. Why is it even important that we have God's power, and that we understand that we have it? Well, in a passage that we will study within the next couple of weeks, Paul identifies three great enemies of our souls. They were enemies before we came to Christ, and they are still enemies. Look at Ephesians 2, Ephesians 2. He begins by saying you were dead in trespasses and sins, and then he explains that. He sort of expounds on that, and here are the enemies he identifies.

"… you formerly walked according to the course of this world, [enemy number one] according to the prince of the power of the air … [enemy number two, and then in verse three we meet enemy number three] Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind…." [Enemy number three.]

The world, the devil, and the flesh. The world, the flesh, and the devil. Those are our three great enemies. Paul's point here is that before we came to faith in Christ, these three powers dominated our souls, directed our thoughts, and controlled our lives. No exceptions. Before you came to Christ, or if 'you're here this morning and you're not a Christian, God says those three forces really control you. You think you're free. You think you make decisions the way you want to make them. You don't. You're enslaved by those three great enemies of your soul. The world, the flesh, and the devil.

Now, even after we become new creatures in Christ, and the dominion, the power of those enemies is broken for us, and their doom becomes certain, even for us as Christians, these three enemies continue to exist and they continue to launch what we could call a series of counter-offensives against our souls. Christ destroyed them in a sense at the cross. He began their destruction there, but they still exist, and we are in a mop-up operation, and they are still launching counter-offensives against our souls. It's essential that we understand what we are really up against, or we will never appreciate our need for God's power.

So, let's look briefly at these three enemies a little closer. This is why we need God's power, these three great enemies. Look first at the world there in verse 2. He calls it the course of this world. Now understand that the word "world" in this context is not talking about people. It's not talking about the people who inhabit this planet. Nor is he talking about the globe on which we live. In this context, and the Bible occasionally uses the word this way, it refers to a set of values. A mind-set may be a good way to describe it. It is the mind-set and values that characterize fallen mankind. And what are the values of fallen mankind? The apostle John describes it this way in 1 John 2:16. He says, "All that is in the world." Here he goes. He's going to define it. "… all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh [the craving of the flesh] … the lust of the eyes [what the eyes crave] and the boastful pride of life." Those are what characterize the fallen world. That's the value system of a fallen world.

So, the primary pursuits of those locked into this world system, this mindset in which we live, are into self-satisfaction, self-enjoyment, and self-promotion, self-satisfaction, self-enjoyment, and self-promotion. That's what they live for. That's why the world runs. And when we become locked into that same mindset, we become what James calls friends of the world. Or we become worldly. Worldliness is eagerly pursuing the same sinful priorities that fallen man pursues, self-satisfaction, self-enjoyment, and self-promotion.

And this is a constant source of temptation for us. We are bombarded every day with this mindset. We are encouraged to seek satisfaction. We're encouraged to seek our own enjoyment whatever the cost. We're encouraged to promote ourselves. If you don't, who will? People get on television and boast about how wonderful they are, and encourage us to do the same. The problem with you is you just don't love yourself enough. This is part of the system that we live in, the mindset and values of the world. And again and again the New Testament warns us as believers of the danger of being influenced by the thinking of the world around us, the mindset, the values, the priorities of the world around us. In Romans 12:2, you remember Paul says, "do not be conformed to this world."

What was he talking about? Does he mean we have to dress in some odd clothing and go live in a cave somewhere? Is that what he meant? No. He was saying, don't allow the mindset and values of the age in which you live to push you into its mold. Don't let its thinking change your thinking. But it's everywhere we look. You picked up your newspaper this morning, you were bombarded with the messages of self-satisfaction, self-enjoyment, and self-promotion. Turn on your television set. It's there. Go to the internet. You find it there. Movies, music, billboards, everywhere we look this message is screaming at us.

James warns us about this. Turn to James, the half-brother of our Lord. In the end of the first chapter of his little letter, he says, listen, let me tell you what pure and undefiled religion is in the sight of God. I'll give you two categories. First of all, love. Visit orphans and widows in their distress. Care for those in need. Show unselfish, self-sacrificial love. And secondly, verse 27 of James 1, keep yourself unstained by the world. Don't let the thinking and the mindset of the age in which you live stain you. Sadly, it happens.

Over in James 4:4 it had already happened to some of the people he was writing to. Because he says this to them. "You adulteresses," in other words, you're committing spiritual adultery. Do you not know that friendship with that mindset is hostility toward God? If you start buying in to self-satisfaction and self-enjoyment and self-promotion, you're making yourself an enemy of God. And therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Listen, this is a real danger. You may not realize it, but this is a danger to your soul, and we desperately need the power of God to withstand the constant influence and pressure of the mindset of the age in which we live.

There's a second enemy Paul identifies back in Ephesians 2. It's the flesh. You see, there is within each one of us, who are believers, who are Christians, there is within each of us a traitor, a traitor to Jesus Christ. Scripture defines it as the flesh. It's part of us. As Pogo, the comic character said, "we have met the enemy, and he is us." That's exactly what the Bible teaches, although we as believers have a new nature, a new heart. We don't have two natures. We have one new nature, but we have that new nature incarcerated in fallen human flesh, part of us that's still unredeemed. Although it's not solely our bodies, the flesh finds its beachhead of operations in our physical bodies because that's the part of us that is unredeemed. And it's the great enemy of our spiritual lives. Paul thought so. Turn back to Romans 7. This is the apostle Paul, let me remind you. Handpicked by our Lord to represent Him in the world, and listen to how Paul describes this enemy that he battles. Romans 7:18. He says,

… I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; [in that unredeemed part of me] for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want." [Sound familiar? Sounds familiar to me.] Verse 20, But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin that dwells in me.

Now don't misunderstand Paul. Paul isn't just sort of excusing himself, saying okay, I've bought into Greek dualism, and I'm going to be spiritual, and in my spirit I'm going to do what's good and right, and in my body I'm going to just let it do whatever it wants, because it's evil anyway. That's not what Paul is saying. Paul is saying, the real me, my new nature, who I am by God's doing; with that, I want to do what's right, so when I sin it's not the real me. It's not that new heart God has given me. It's my flesh. It's that part of me that's unredeemed.

Verse 21, I find then this principle [this sort of law of operation] that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man. [By the way, that's a great test of whether or not you are truly a Christian. Do you joyfully concur or agree with and embrace the law of God in the inner man? Do you want to do what God commands? He says I do.] Verse 23, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am!

Paul say, listen, I have this terrible enemy, and it's me. It's my flesh. It's that part of me that's unredeemed that has it's beachhead in my body. It's always leading me into sin, making it hard to obey God. Because with our flesh, you see, we still have attached to that flesh those sin habits that were a part of who we were before we were redeemed.

In some cases God takes those sin habits away at conversion. For me, before I was saved, I had a terrible temper, always getting into fist fights of various kinds. And when I became a Christian, that was gone. But, there are other sinful habits that don't suddenly disappear. And those habits become a very real presence in our Christian lives. We have a new heart and a new nature, but there remain habits connected to the flesh that threaten our spiritual growth. And it's not just overt sins that come with the flesh. Let me tell you something else that comes with the flesh, simply, being spiritually lazy, spiritual laziness. Our Lord, in Matthew 26:41, you remember, on the night of His crucifixion said this to the disciples. Keep watching and praying that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

You know what he was saying? He was saying, listen, the new you wants to pray and wants to follow Me, but your flesh makes you apathetic and weak, and in their case, even put them to sleep while they were praying. That ever happen to you? You see, the flesh can work like this. The alarm clock goes off. And you look over at it and you hit the snooze button and then you lay there a minute and you say to yourself, I know I should get up and spend time in prayer. I should spend time in the word, but you know, I'm really tired, and I just really need my rest for the long day of work that's ahead, and I'll wait till another morning when, you know, I feel a little more like it. Turn off the alarm, go back to sleep. You see, the flesh not only promotes active overt sin, but it also promotes spiritual laziness in pursuing the disciplines of the Christian life. So, the flesh is a constant enemy within. It's an enemy that we don't have the capacity to overcome on our own.

Now, the third great enemy of our souls is the devil. Now, this is out of sync with popular culture, to talk about a personal devil. But Paul does. He refers to him as the spirit, verse 2, he says, "the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience." You say, yeah, but that was before I was a Christian. What about now that I'm a Christian? Do I still have to worry about Satan and his evil forces? Turn over to chapter 6, chapter 6:10. Paul says, you better be strong in the strength of God's might. You better put on the full armor of God so that you, as a Christian, will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle, our wrestling is not against flesh and blood. Do you know the battle isn't people? No, he says it's what's behind those people. The rulers, the powers, the world forces of this darkness. Against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.

Paul says there is a personal devil, and there are those who are a part of his hierarchy who are out to destroy your soul as a Christian. Beware. Do you really believe that? Do you believe that there exists a spirit being of great power, of incredible intelligence, and unthinkable evil who has set himself against the plan of God? And that through his own deceit and cunning he led a revolt of countless angels who now follow his leadership and execute his wishes? If you believe that, you're one of about 23% of Americans who do. But that is exactly what the Bible teaches.

John Murray writes, "Back of all that is visible and tangible in the sin of this world there are unseen spiritual powers. This is what Paul was fully aware of when he wrote Ephesians 6:12. Because we have given way to the impact of naturalistic presuppositions, and to the anti-supernaturalistic bias of our day, we are far too liable to discount this truth of Christian revelation." But Murray adds "to the extent that we do so, our thinking is not Christian." This is what the Bible teaches. These incredibly evil beings are set on your spiritual destruction.

You remember what Jesus said to Peter in Luke 22:31. He said to Peter, "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith … fail [not]…." Don't you for a moment believe that because you're a Christian, Satan and his evil empire is not bound and determined to destroy you. Our only defense against Satan is God Himself. You remember the apostle John said in 1 John 4:4, "… greater is He [that] … is in you than [what] he [that] … is in the world."

There's our hope. Here's what I want you to see. Beloved, think about this. We are in a war. You, Christian, are in a war. You may not think you're in a war. You may not feel like you're in a war. You may think, life's just going on fine, but according to the Bible, you are in a war. We are fighting for our spiritual lives, and if you don't stay alert, one of these enemies, the world, the flesh, or the devil will ambush you in an effort to undermine your spiritual growth and progress, and ultimately, if it were possible, to destroy you. Now, we do not, inherently, have the power in and of ourselves to stand against those three great enemies of our souls. We don't have the power to stand against one of them, our own flesh, much less the world and the devil. So, we desperately need God's power. And here's the remarkable thing, we have it.

Let's look at the provision of God's power back in Ephesians 1. Ephesians 1:19, Paul prays that they may come to know, "what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. … in accordance with the working of the strength of His might."

Now, notice how he describes God's power. It is surpassing great power. The word surpassing refers to something that greatly exceeds, far surpasses. So, God's power greatly exceeds every other power. And this power, notice, is not just for a few Christians, but it's for every Christian. Paul even includes himself. He says the power toward us who believe. Now, Paul says this power is at work toward us. It's better translated, "in us who believe." That's exactly what he says over in chapter 3:20. He talks about the power that works within us, so that's what he means here. He says there is this power that surpasses all other powers, and it is at work inside us who believe. If you're a Christian, this power is at work in you. Now the Greek word translated "power" is the common word for power. It speaks of "an ability to act," simply an ability to act.

But then in the rest of the verse Paul adds three synonyms for power. Notice that in the middle of verse 19 there are two italic words, "these are." They're in italics. That means they were added by the NAS translators. They are not in the original text. They did that in order to break this long Greek sentence up into several English sentences. If you were to read in the Greek text starting in verse 15 all the way through the end of the chapter, it's just one sentence. But here, to make it easier for us to read, they broke it up. So they tagged these two words "these are." And I think in this case, it's a little confusing. Because technically, the little phrase at the end of verse 19 goes back and connects to "the surpassing greatness of His power." So let me read it to you this way. Verse 19, Paul wants us to know the "surpassing greatness of His power in accordance with the working of the strength of His might."

Now what's amazing about that is, Paul uses four different words in that one verse to describe God's "power," four different words. And he piles up these different words to show us that God's power is incomparable and unstoppable. But at the same time, each of these words individually adds its own nuance to our understanding of God's power. So, lets look at each of these three he adds at the end of verse 19. "The working." These are in accordance with the working. This is the Greek word from which we get the English word, "energy." "Energeo" is the Greek word, "energy." This is "power at work." Power producing something. And then he says, "the strength." The verb form of this word means, "to grasp or to seize or to capture." From this Greek word, we get English words like "theocracy," meaning "the rule of God," or "democracy" meaning "the rule of the people." It speaks of the power to rule, the power to control, or the power to overcome all resistance. Nothing can stop God. That's the idea of this word translated "strength" in the English text.

I love what A.W. Pink says. "Were all the denizens of heaven and all the inhabitants of earth to combine in open revolt against God, it would cause Him no uneasiness. It would have less effect upon His eternal unassailable throne than the spray of the Mediterranean's waves have upon the towering rocks of Gibraltar."

Absolutely unaffected. If every being in the universe joined in rebellion against God, His power would be irresistible, unstoppable, incomparable. Now, the third word used at the end of verse 19, "the strength of His might," is a word that refers to "inherent strength," inherent strength. This is what you have inherently. So, let me put it all together like this. Paul is telling us that God has inherent strength or ability to act in such a way to overcome all resistance and to accomplish whatever it is He's determined to do. God cannot be resisted. He cannot be stopped. The Scriptures everywhere proclaim this. You go back to Psalm 135:6, we read, "Whatever the Lord pleases, He does. In heaven, and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps."

Jeremiah 32:26, "the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying, Behold, I am [JHWH], the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?"

God says. The obvious answer is, not at all. Our Lord puts it like this in Matthew 19:26. "And looking at them Jesus said … with people this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible." God has this power that is part of who He is, that cannot be stopped, it cannot be resisted, nothing stands in God's way. Nothing even gives Him pause. He does what He pleases. He does His will regardless of who may stand opposed.

Now God has demonstrated this power in many different ways, like creation and providence. Paul says look around. Look at the creation. You see the power of God in the creation. But what Paul has in mind here in Ephesians 1 is what God's power has done, if you're a Christian, in you. His power in saving you, and His power in sanctifying you. God exerted incredible power in saving us. And by the way, He's the only one who exerted any power. You didn't. You were dead. God exerted the power. This is what theologians call "monergism." One, mono. Energy, working. One working. Only God was working. You were lifeless and dead. This is what Ephesians 2 says. I love this. Ephesians 2:1, "you were dead in your trespasses and sins," Notice the rest of the sentence. Verse 5, "even when we were dead in our transgressions, [God] made us alive … with Christ."

Let me just simplify that long Greek sentence for you. You were dead, and God made you alive. God exerted incredible power, resurrecting power, re-creating power. We are new creatures in Christ. God used incredible power to save us. You see, salvation is from beginning to end God's work. It's an expression of His power. If you're a Christian this morning, remember the words of Paul to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 1:30. "By His doing [talking about God,] by His doing you are in Christ Jesus"

God acted in an incredible display of His power to save you, to bring you who were spiritually dead to life. But He also continues to work in us with sanctifying power. Right now, Christian, God is at work within you. You see, many Christians understand that it's God's power alone that saves them, but they also conclude that they are then responsible to sanctify themselves. Now, it's true that you and I must expend maximum effort in the goal of obedience and sanctification. We must do that. But we can never change ourselves. Jeremiah 13:23, "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, Or the leopard his spots. Then you also can do good who are accustomed to doing evil." You can't do it. We don't have the power to change our nature. That's why Paul said to the Galatians in Galatians 3:3, he said, "Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit are you now being perfected by the flesh?"

So, listen, it took God's power to save you. Do you now think your power can sanctify you? So how does sanctification happen? It happens by the same power that saved us. God is at work in us. And that's true today, Christian. If you are in Christ, God is at work in you with the same power He used to raise Jesus from the dead.

Now, so Paul's prayer here in Ephesians 1 is that we would really come to grasp the reality of the greatness of God's power that is at work within us. Why? It's always my question. Why? Why is it so important for us to understand the greatness of God's power that is at work within us? I mean, after all, if He's at work within us, then it's going to happen, so why do I need to understand it? Well, there are several reasons Scripture gives us. Let me just point out a couple of them to you. Here's why it's important for you to understand this and know this, that God is at work within you.

Number one. Because knowledge of God's power at work in us encourages our own efforts at obedience. Turn to Philippians 2. Philippians 2:12, this famous verse cited for us to pursue sanctification or holiness, likeness to Christ. "So then, my beloved, just as you [also] have obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling…." In other words, be on the path to sanctification. Be pursuing obedience. Be pursuing a life of holiness. But look at verse 13. "for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure."

Notice that it is God who is at work. Literally, the one working is God. That's what it says in the Greek text. The one working is God. And it's the present tense. He is working. This is God's constant activity. And He's working in you. It's a shocking statement isn't it? The eternal God of the universe is at work in you. God is using His mighty power in you to do something deep down in the depths of your being. What's He doing? Look again at verse 13. "for it is God who is at work in you … to will, to will…."

This is a remarkable statement. You know what Paul is saying? He is saying, from the moment of salvation, God has been at work in you on your will. That faculty of your soul that makes decisions. Does that mean we're simply robots. That God forces our wills to do something? No, God does something far more amazing and far more gracious. He persuades our wills by changing our desires. Notice he adds, both to will and to work. God not only changes our desires, which changes our wills, but He also enables us to follow through with that decision. Let me put it to you like this. When you have a spiritual desire, it's God who has produced that desire in you. And when you make a decision to act on that desire, it's God in you producing that. That decision is God's doing. And then, when you actually do it, when you actually follow through and do something about that desire you've had and that decision you made, God is the one providing you the power to carry that decision to fruition. God is at work in you both to will and to work. What goal does God have in mind? Look at verse 13 again. "for His good pleasure."

You say that seems awfully self-serving of God. No, let me put it to you like this. God delights in causing us to delight in Him, the only worthy object of delight. But notice how Paul connects these two verses. Our responsibility, verse 12. God's work in us, verse 13. Notice the word that begins verse 13. The word "for" F O R. God does not work because we have worked. The exact opposite is true. You are to work out your own salvation, you are to pursue sanctification for, because, for this reason: God is at work in you.

You see, you and I are to work out our own salvation or sanctification. We are to cultivate our own hearts. We are to put off sinful attitudes and actions. We are to be renewed in our thinking. We're to put on attitudes and actions in keeping with who we are in Christ, and the reason? Precisely because God is at work in us both to will and to work, for his good pleasure. Understand it like this. If you understand God's power at work in you, it will motivate you to expend maximum effort in the pursuit of sanctification, because you know it's not your own strength. You know God is doing something in you. He's changing you.

There's a second reason this is important, just briefly. Not only because knowledge of God's power encourages our obedience, but secondly, knowledge of God's power builds strength into our own hearts for the daily battles of life. In Ephesians 6:10, I read it to you a few minutes ago, when Paul gets to one of those enemies that we face, the enemy of the devil, and his evil forces, he says in verse 10, "I want you to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might." Now that you understand His might that's at work within you, you can be strong. You see, as you and I understand the strength that we have in God, the power that's at work within us, then we can face the battles against the flesh, and the world, and the devil, because we do it in His strength.

The third reason, briefly, is that knowledge of God's power at work in us drives us to Christ. This is why it's important for us to understand it. Because it drives us to Christ. First Corinthians 1:24, "to those who are called, that's us, Christ is the power of God." You need God's power? You need to understand God' power? It all comes back to Christ. That's why, you remember what Jesus said the night before His crucifixion, John 15:5, to His disciples? He's using that beautiful picture of the vine and the branches, and He says to them this incredible statement. "Without me you can do nothing," Nothing. You need power? It's found in Christ. It's in the indwelling Spirit of Christ that lives within you. And so, understanding that God's power is at work within us, ultimately drives us back to Him again, drives us back to Christ.

Listen, you have all the power you need at work in you. You don't need to get connected. You are connected if you're a Christian. What you need is illumination to better understand the greatness of God's power that is at work within you. That's what Paul prayed for them, and that's what you should be praying for you and for other Christians. God, help me get it. Help me understand, because if I understand it, then it will encourage me to obey. It will strengthen me in the daily battles with the world, the flesh, and the devil, and it will drive me to Christ. And when we get it, when we truly understand God's power in us, then we will be able to pray with Paul in Ephesians 3:20, "Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us."

Let's pray together.

Our Father, we thank you for this reminder from the apostle Paul. Lord, thank you that You have given us in Christ and in the Spirit that indwells us, all the power we need. And Father, I pray with Paul that You would help us to understand it. Help us to grasp it. Help us to truly know the surpassing greatness of Your power that is at work within all of us who believe.

And knowing it, Father, I pray that it would change our attitude toward our own struggle with sin and righteousness. Father, that You would energize us, that You would strengthen us, that You would drive us to Christ, who is Your power to us. Father, I pray that You would give us strength, that You would help us to realize that power and to stand in that power as we face the world and its mindset, its values, as we face our own fallen flesh and the temptations that come from it, and Satan and his evil empire of spiritual beings set against us. Father, I pray that you would help us to get it. Help us to understand the greatness of Your power at work within us, and then use it in our lives.

We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.