Strengthening the Inner Man
A Sermon Preached on Sunday, October 9, 2011, by
The Rev. S. Randall Toms, Ph. D.,
At St. Paul’s Reformed Episcopal Church, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man. (Eph. 3:14-16)
During this time of year, every Saturday and Sunday, we get to see some athletes in action who are pretty amazing physical specimens. When we see some of these football players we are overwhelmed by their size. If you have an opportunity to actually meet some of these offensive linemen, you feel that you are standing next to a giant of a man. Some of the other players may not be that large, but they have incredible muscles, and we hear tales of how much they can bench press. In an outward sense, they are very powerful men. Yet, every year it seems that we hear more and more stories of how these boys and men who have all this incredible physical strength do not have much moral strength. We hear of some of them being involved in thefts, losing their tempers and battering their wives or girlfriends, or being arrested for DUI. While they are incredibly strong on the outside, some of them don’t seem to be very strong on the inside. They do not seem to have much strength in the way of goodness and virtue.
In the writings of St. Paul, several times we find him referring to this difference between the inward man and the outward man. In this passage from his epistle to the Ephesians, he prays that they would be strengthened by the Holy Spirit in the inner man. In Scripture, there is an outward man and an inner man. That outward man is what we would think of as the body. As we have observed, that outward person can be very strong, or it can be very weak. We all know people who are extremely healthy. Then, there are those who because of accidents, illnesses, or old age, have become quite weak in the outward man. As we go through Scripture, we often find that people who are strong in the outward man are not always strong in the inner man. Take Samson, for example. Certainly, there was no one stronger in terms of the outward man, but inwardly, what a weakling he often proved to be, unable to control his passions, his anger, and his lusts. On the other hand, we have someone like the apostle Paul, who seems not to have been a very impressive physical specimen. He said that other people thought that his outward presence was weak and contemptible. Knowing all the beatings and other forms of abuse he had experienced, St. Paul probably looked pretty weak. If he had an eye disease, as some Bible scholars think, he may have even had a facial deformity that was not pleasant to look upon. Though he may have been weak on the outside, what strength he had inwardly! He had the strength to continue to go on all those missionary journeys, spreading the gospel of Christ around the world at great cost to his physical health, being in prisons, suffering beating, and floating in the sea after a shipwreck. But he kept on going for the cause of Christ. What inner strength he displayed!
As I said, the outward man refers to the body. I would include in this description of the outward man the brain, the mind, or the intellect. As we have noticed throughout our lives, some people, because of genetic blessing, or just through intense study, have minds that are very strong and vigorous. There is more to the inward man than just our thoughts. The inward main is something spiritual, but the brain is still part of the body. The brain can become weak and sick. People can have strokes and their minds never be what they were before. People can have Alzheimer’s disease, and it is terrible to watch them come to the place where they no longer recognize us, and we really no longer recognize them because of the changes that take place in their personalities. Yet, people can have strong intellects, and, at the same time, be very weak in a moral and spiritual sense. We often say that Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived, and his writings do demonstrate great wisdom. But anybody who thinks he can handle 300 wives and 400 concubines is also demonstrating some severe weakness in wisdom. We can include the brain as part of this outward man that can be very strong in some ways, and yet not prevent us from some very serious moral failings.
In II Cor. 4:16, St. Paul writes, “though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” There again is this distinction between the outward man and the inward man. This outward man is described as perishing. Whether we realize it or not, all of us are perishing in this outward man. There is something within us, the aging process, and it is leading us toward that time when we are going to perish. When sickness and old age comes along, that sense of the outward man perishing becomes more pronounced. Bodily organs begin to fail, weakness begins to set in, muscles just aren’t as strong as they used to be, and these brains of ours just don’t seem to function as they once did—we are not able to learn things as fast as we once were, and we become forgetful. Paul was right when he said that the outward man is perishing, and it is inevitable.
Nevertheless, he told the Corinthians that the inward man is being renewed day. He told the Ephesians that he was praying that the Holy Spirit would strengthen them in the inner man. What is the inner man that must be strengthened and renewed? The inner man, as I said, is more than the inner thoughts and feelings of a person. The inner man is that new person that has been created in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Christians are new creations in Christ Jesus. We are given a new heart, a new mind, a new spirit, an inner person that can love God and serve God and have fellowship with God. It is this inner man that needs to be strengthened and renewed day by day.
You may not realize it at the present time, but you need this inner man, and you need this inner man to be strong. It is this inner man that will help you during your times of temptation to say, “No.” It is this inner man that receives the comforts of God when you are sick, bereaved, or facing tragedy in your life. It is this inner man that is instructed, led, and guided by the Holy Spirit when you are facing difficult choices and decisions in your life. The great advantage of being a Christian is that when all these things happen to you, you have this inner man to look to and rely upon. One of the saddest moments in life for many people is that whenever they confront these terrible moments in life, they have no inner man. They don’t have this person living within that can be comforted and guided during those awful moments. Sometimes, even the Christian finds that though he has this inner man, he has not been nourishing it, strengthening it, and when these trials come, they find this inner man to be very weak. For example, when temptations come, if the inner man has not been nourished, the inner man is not strong enough to overcome the desires of the flesh. Remember how St. Paul put it in Romans 7: “For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (Romans 7:22-23) . There again is that term “inward man,” and we can see that Paul says he delights in the law of God after the inward man. That inward man has been placed in us by God himself, and as such, it delights in the law of God. This inward man, placed in us by God, wants to obey God. But there is something else present with us. There is sin which still resides in us. In Galatians 5:17, the apostle writes, “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.” There is this constant battle going on between the flesh and spirit, between our sinful nature and the inner man, and sometimes, the flesh wins. We do the things we don’t want to do. Deep down inside there is this inner man, this true self created by God that wants to do what is right in the sight of God. But this inner man needs to be strengthened.
St. Paul tells these Ephesian Christians that he is praying for them that the Holy Spirit would strengthen them in the inner man. How does this strengthening take place? Do we just sit around and wait for it to happen. No, once again, we must use all the means of grace at our disposal, and the Holy Spirit uses those means to strengthen us. Just as we use means such as exercise and the right food to nourish these outward bodies, we need to use those things God has given us to strengthen the inner man. We must study the Scriptures. We must pray a great deal, praying specifically that the Holy Spirit would strengthen the inner man. We need to attend worship and the preaching of God’s word. We need the sacrament of Holy Communion. We pray that as we take this Holy Communion that we will be “made one body with Christ, that he may dwell in us and we in him.” This is the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ to preserve us body and soul to everlasting life. The Holy Spirit uses all these means of grace to strengthen the inner man.
Let me say a special word of encouragement to our young people. Start strengthening this inner man now! You are going to need him, and you are going to need him to be strong. It is a terrible thing to wake up one day, facing a temptation, a trial, a sickness, or a tragedy and realize that you have such a weak inner man to face these challenges. You know the old saying by Mickey Mantle, “If I knew I’d live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.” The same thing is true of the inner man. If you live long enough, you are going to need a strong inner man, and you will wish that you had been spending your time strengthening it.
Thanks be to God, abundant strength for the inner man is available if you will only spend the time and effort to access it, for Paul prays that God “would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man.” Where do you get this strength for the inner man? It is true that you get this strength from the Holy Spirit, but notice how St. Paul describes this source of strength. St. Paul prays that God would grant this strength “according to the riches of his glory.” Just think of all the trials and testing you will face. You are going to need a great deal of strength. But look to heaven and picture there a huge treasure chest filled with all the strength you need, described here as “the riches of his glory.” That’s a lot of strength, isn’t it? How much strength do you need? All of that strength comes flowing to us from God’s abundant riches of strength. Do you need to be strengthened in the inner man? Look to God right now and see how glorious he is. He is glorious in strength and power. Now, ask him for his strength. Ask him, pray to him earnestly, and he will give the strength in the inner man that you need. He has great riches of strength to share with you.
The wonderful thing about this inner strengthening is that it can continue throughout life. I read to you a moment ago a passage from II Cor. 4, where Paul writes, “For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” It is so sad that this outward man has to perish. As we get older, we look in the mirror and see more evidence that the outward man is perishing. We try so hard to keep the outward man from perishing, but no amount of money, no amount of good eating, and no amount of exercise can put it off forever. The outward man is perishing. There are all kinds of theories about why we age. There are biological theories and genetic theories, and from time to time researchers say that they have come up with ways to slow it down. Perhaps we will find ways to slow down the aging process in the future, but eventually the outward man perishes, and we all know that it is happening to each of us as we sit here now. But Paul says that the inward man is being renewed day by day. What would you think if you could say, “My body is being renewed every day? I’m not getting older. I’m getting younger”? In a spiritual sense, that is to be true of the Christian. Inwardly, we are not wearing out. We are being renewed every day. Bob Dylan wrote a song, later made more popular by The Byrds, where he says, “Oh, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.” The Christian can have that kind of outlook. The Christian can say, “Every day, my outlook on life, my hope for the future, is getting brighter and brighter.” Paul could say, “When you look at me, you just see the outward man. You just see that I’m getting older and how I’m suffering all the results of years of persecution. But you don’t see the inward man, how I’m being sustained, refreshed, rejuvenated, and this inner man will be sustained until that day when I am in heaven with energy, freshness, and youthful innocence, even better than that which Adam experienced in the Garden of Eden.”
What is the purpose of all this renewing? Why does the Holy Spirit strengthen the inner man? Why is the inward man being renewed day by day? In this same chapter of Ephesians, St. Paul tells us why God strengthens the inner man: “That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God (Eph. 3:17-19). All this strengthening of the inner man is designed to show us the love of Christ, to reveal to us the love of Christ. No matter what we are going through in this life, the inner man is strengthened to look beyond all this and see that love of God which passes knowledge, and when you comprehend that love, you are filled with all the fullness of God. Let us look now to the riches of his glory and pray that we might be strengthened in the inner man to know the love of Christ which renews us day by day. Amen.