To Know the Love of Christ: a Pauline Model for Sanctification


We are certainly aware of the different ways that Paul describes sanctification; we are to yield, to submit, to be filled, to crucify, to walk worthy, etc. Each of the previous infinitives describes the human-cooperative aspect of sanctification with some slightly different points of emphasis.

Although final sanctification is guaranteed to those who have believed (Romans 8:29), each Pauline model for its actualization carries with it the assumption that the one being sanctified must be an active participant, i.e. we must do something.

The most important exception to this norm, however, comes in one of Paul’s rich prayers for the Ephesians; he prays that based upon God’s inexhaustible resources that they would be strengthened and that Christ would dwell in their hearts, i.e. that they would be filled with all the fullness of God. In order for this to be accomplished, however, in this context the believers are not instructed to do anything. Rather, there is something that they need to know. By implication there is something that I need to know. Paul is praying for a spiritual miracle, that believers would be able to comprehend the immeasurable love of Christ Jesus toward them.

At first glance, Paul’s prayer is a typical spiral of subordinating clauses. Upon further examination, a logical chiasm is clear. Paul begins his prayer by drawing upon the riches of God’s glory (3:16). Interestingly, the prayer ends with a benediction that God would be glorified in his church and in his Christ (3:21). The outside layer of this logical chiasm, then, concerns itself with God’s glory.

His continues his request, that the Spirit would internally strengthen us, i.e. that we would experience God’s power in a practical way in our lives (3:16). Interestingly, at the close of the letter, this concept is directly mirrored. God is capable of doing more than we can comprehend because his power is at work in our lives (3:20). The next layer, then, concerns itself with God’s power.

We need to be strengthened, so that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith (3:17). This concept is mirrored several verses later where Paul desires that we be filled with all the fullness of God (3:19). Since all the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Jesus, the two phrases are equivalent. This layer concerns itself with the fullness of God in the believer, i.e. the crux of sanctification.

Next we need strength to comprehend vast dimensions: breath, length, depth, and height (3:18). Several phrases later, Paul reveals that these dimensions are unknowable. Paul is asking for God to a miracle for the Ephesians; they need to know something that is not knowable. This next layer, then, concerns itself with knowing.

The logical chiasm would look like this:

(A) Glory
(B) Power
(C) Christ dwell in hearts
(D) Knowing
TO KNOW THE LOVE OF CHRIST
(D’) Unknowable
(C’) Filled with fulness of God
(B’) Power
(A’) Glory

The climax of the chiasm, then, is knowing the love of Christ. I need to know the love that God has for me, so that I can be filled with all the fulness of God, so I can be a partaker of the divine benefit, so God’s moral attributes will be made manifest in my transforming character.

I challenge you: this week make a list detailing how you know that God loves you.

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  1. #1 by Sam on August 30, 2008 - 8:51 am

    Dave,
    I see you are attempting to put your masters degree to good use.

    I like the theme of your post– I think if Christians truly understood the love of Christ for them it would revolutionize their spiritual lives. We should meditate much on it. The writers of the Bible talk about the love of God as this awe-inspiring thing that defies the ability of words to convey. Yet, when the average Christian thinks about it, we think it’s not that incredible. We really don’t let it sink in.

    I agree that sanctification is not something we do– it is a change in who we are; a change in our very nature. Only God can do that.

  2. #2 by clearly on August 30, 2008 - 10:07 am

    One passage came to mind after reading your comment…

    The first, 2 Corinthians 5:14 where the love of Christ controls us or constrains us. If the love of Christ is only a lifeless construct in our minds and not a reality that produces godly action in our lives, we don’t really know it as we ought. In this particular passage it controls us and makes us realize that Christ died for us so that we would not live life unto ourselves but unto him who died for us and rose again (5:15 — leading all the way into being an ambassador for Christ).

  3. #3 by Sam on August 30, 2008 - 11:40 am

    “I am crucified with Christ: neverthless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.

    That’s Paul’s motivation in a nutshell, and it should be ours. I truly believe that we don’t love God as we should because we don’t know how much He loves us. It would be wonderful to study in depth all the ways the love of God should impact the life of a believer: it’s motivating effects, it’s constraining effects, it’s sustaining effects, etc.

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