Part One: The Colonizer
Spiritual Colonization: what is it and why is it important to the Christian life? Years ago in my exposition of the book of Ephesians while teaching through the third chapter, I identified for Berean a biblical reality that speaks to an important biblical facet of the Christian experience. A reality that I described as Spiritual Colonization. As Paul drew his thoughts on his ministry to a close, just prior to the great benediction that concluded Ephesians 3, Paul articulated one of his prayers for the Ephesian church. The outcome Paul desired for them, as identified in this prayer, was the experience of Spiritual Colonization, a spiritual reality that I dare say will revolutionize your Christian experience once properly understood and faithfully responded to.
The prayer itself exposed the Ephesians to the spiritual concerns that the apostle possessed for them. What was that concern? Paul articulated it through these words, “For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man” (3:14-16).
After Paul described his approach to prayer, by identifying its foundation, intensity, object, and source of answer in 3:14-16a, Paul described for them his appeals in 3:16-19. The first appeal, regarding a power beyond themselves, was defined in 3:16-17. The statement of this request came first, “that He would grant you . . . to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man.” Paul also identified the basis of the request, “according to the riches of His glory.” This led to the result of the request for spiritual empowerment and its basis in spiritual realities. What was that result or outcome, according to the apostle? It was spiritual residency. This spiritual residency is what I identify as Spiritual Colonization. How do we get there?
Well, Paul began articulating to the Ephesians the outcome for which he had been praying on their behalf by first naming the person of this residency. Paul wrote “so that Christ.” As Paul so often does, not just throughout all of his writings but particularly it seems throughout Ephesians, he brings his readers face to face with the Trinity. Paul’s prayer to this point identified two of the members of the Godhead. The Father was the object of Paul’s prayer and the One from whom he was requesting intervention in the lives of the Ephesians (3:14). The Holy Spirit was the One that Paul was requesting that the Father would intervene through. The Father grants it, but it is the Holy Spirit that actually personally brings it to pass. It was the Father’s will that was of prime concern here, but the Holy Spirit will actually carry out this empowering. It is, however, the second member of the Godhead, Christ, with whom the believer is to have a special relationship.
It is right here at this point that our age has made an error right at the root and foundation of the Christian life. For many believers and in many churches, the Christian life is funneled or subsumed into a relationship with the Holy Spirit. This is the relationship to which the average believer looks, which he pursues, and to which he is primarily exhorted by pastors and teachers. A deeper experience of the Holy Spirit is the object of many persons’ Christian life. But, what such persons have failed to realize is that the believer’s relationship with the Holy Spirit is so that they might have a richer deeper relationship with Christ. It is Christ who is the Mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5-6). It is Christ who is the sinner’s righteousness (Rom. 3:21-22; Phil. 3:9). It is Christ who is the new and living way (Heb. 10:19-22). It is Christ who is the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls (1 Pet. 2:25). As Peter puts it in 1 Peter 1:1-2, we are ordained by the Father, we are set aside by the Holy Spirit, but this takes place that we might be sprinkled with Christ’s blood. Christ is not the medium to a relationship with the Holy Spirit, but rather the Holy Spirit is the agent to and of a relationship with Jesus Christ.
The reality of this can be wonderfully seen in Romans 8 as Paul discussed the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Now, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit is His foundational ministry in the life of the born-again believer. However, it is clear from Paul that this indwelling of the Holy Spirit is meant to represent the personal and representative presence of Christ in the believer. Notice carefully Paul’s words,
However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. And if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who indwells you (8:9-11).
Although taught by Paul, this understanding did not start with Paul, but rather with Jesus Christ Himself.
Jesus’ first extensive and open instruction upon it appeared in John 14:16-18. In this passage, the believer learns that: 1) the Holy Spirit will be sent upon the Son’s request (v. 16); 2) the Holy Spirit will be another Helper, which means another One just like Christ (v. 16); 3) the Holy Spirit will abide and be in the believer (v. 17); and 4) in this indwelling ministry, the Holy Spirit will be the personal presence and representation of Jesus Christ Himself in the believer (v. 18). Here we see that the Spirit is not the focus of the Spirit’s indwelling, but rather Jesus Christ is.
It is right at this crux that many of the Pentecostal, Charismatic, Full Gospel and Vineyard followers have misunderstood and in some cases, perverted, the Christian life. They have funneled or subsumed the Christian life into a relationship with the Holy Spirit and stopped there, if not theologically, then practically. But the true fullness of relationship, which should be evidenced in our teaching and practice, and to which we should be pressing forward is to be had with Jesus Christ. This focus in Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3 should not surprise us for it is Paul who wrote in 1:10 of Ephesians, “with a view to an administration suitable to the fulness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth. In Him” (Phil. 3:1-16). So, the person of this spiritual residency, or Spiritual Colonization, is Jesus Christ.
Before one can properly understand and experience the colonization which will be described in the rest of Ephesians 3:17, they must first have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the Colonizer. He is the active agent in the process of colonization which Paul is describing. Through repentance and faith, they must have come to Jesus, who is Lord and Savior, and submitted themselves to the gospel call. Such a submission will lead to the inevitable process of colonization that Paul will describe next.