…to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man.
It is worth our time to consider the phrase “in the inner man” – eis ton eso anthropon in Greek. This phrase or similar terms are used in several different places by the Apostle Paul and there is something important that God is teaching us in this matter – something we need to grasp and a truth we need to live by. God has created a new nature within the believer, and this new reality of the Christian life is what Paul is praying would be strengthened with the power of God.
First, it would help us to clarify what these words do not mean. Paul is not referring merely to the inner thoughts of our hearts. Every person has an “inner man” in the sense that he holds his thoughts to himself. Whether he is a believer or not, no one but the individual truly knows what he is thinking. But the idea of our secret or private thoughts is not Paul’s meaning.
Neither is Paul referring to a process whereby someone may be improved or reformed – someone whose conscience and mind and emotions have been somewhat enlightened by the moral teachings of the gospel and is now more conscious of the importance and nature of godly behavior. There are such people among us, and the proclamation of biblical morality does have a positive effect on society in this area, but as we will see the true meaning of his words is much more profound.
Neither is he referring to some sort of positive thinking. There is nothing wrong with positive thinking or possibility thinking, and we can all be helped by looking at the glass as half full versus half empty. Often we fail in our ventures in life by being too negative and a positive faith in God will result in a more optimistic view of life. Psalm 23, Luke 6:38, and Romans 8:28-29 should tell us that.
But none of these is what Paul is referring to; each comes short in some significant way.
What he means is a new person, a new inner life, a new type of living, a new spiritual existence, a new nature, the “new man created according to God” (Eph. 4:24).
Charles Hodge wrote that this phrase means:
The Spirit of God as dwelling in the renewed soul and giving it its own character, and therefore also its own name. It is the soul as the subject of divine influence, or as the dwelling place of the Holy Ghost, that is called Spirit. By the “inner man,” therefore, in this passage is not to be understood the soul as opposed to the body, or the rational, as distinguished from the sensual principle; but the interior principle of spiritual life, the product of the almighty power of the Spirit of God. (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/hodge/ephesians.iii.iii.html#iii.iii-p66.1)
Paul used similar words elsewhere to teach us this principle. 2 Cor. 4:16, for example, he wrote, “The outward man is wasting away but the inward is being renewed day by day.” Perhaps clearest teaching on this subject we find in 1 Corinthians 2, where he contrasted the thinking of the unconverted in the world, and those who were believers:
The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Cor. 2:14-16)
The teaching is that the Christian experience is much more than having the Spirit of God come and try to enlighten the dense and non-comprehending mind of the “natural person.” That method is bound to fail and there is no point in trying to make it succeed. Only a converted inner life is capable of learning and personally grasping the reality of the new relationship with Christ. When Paul wrote about the natural man wasting away and the spiritual man being renewed daily, he was describing a new person, a new reality within us, a new you and a new me created in Christ Jesus. If all we have is positive thinking, then that will waste away with the natural man as well. Many people as they age become darker in their thinking – their minds are wasting away – but the true spirit that is resurrected within us will live forever and that reality grows stronger each and every day.
The way we warm our homes in the winter is not by placing a great heat source outside of them and directing its force at our house from the outside. No, we place the heating element within the house and from within the house is warmed. And so it is with human life. God’s method is not to merely teach stubborn hearts. His method is to put a new nature within us, the “new man created according to God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). This is the new life that He pours His strength into.