Christ in the Heart (1)

“…so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith…” (Ephesians 3:17)

Bible Reading: Ephesians 3:16-17

The essence of Paul’s prayer in these verses, which we noted last time, is that his readers might be strengthened with power through the Holy Spirit so that Christ might dwell in their hearts by faith (Ephesians 3:16, 17). It is to the idea of Christ dwelling in the heart through faith that we now turn.

This has been described as the “summit (or high point) of Christian experience.” But what does it mean? We talk often and somewhat glibly about Christ being “in our hearts”. That’s what happens, we say when a person becomes a Christian. Jesus comes to live within us.

As true as that is (John 14:21, 23), it is not exactly what Paul has in mind here. He knows that his readers are Christians, that they are “in Christ,” have been “made alive together with Christ,” and are seated with Christ in heavenly places (1:3; 2:5, 6). So he is not praying that they might have Christ come to live within them as we popularly speak of it.

But nor is he praying for what some refer to as a “second blessing” of the Spirit leading to a “higher life”. Paul never speaks of that in his writings, and it is a mistake to believe that there is something “extra” a person can receive after coming to Christ and receiving his Spirit.  We may indeed experience fuller influences of the Spirit within us, just as the disciples were said to be “filled with the Spirit” on special occasions after Pentecost (Acts 4:8; 13:9). But that is not to be equated with some higher level of the Christian life.

What, then, does Paul mean when he speaks of “Christ dwelling in the heart by faith”? I find it helpful to let another passage in his letters (Galatians 2:20) shed light on this. There, Paul says that he has been “crucified with Christ,” and as a consequence of that, he adds, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

When Paul says that it is no longer he that “lives,” he is not referring to literal, biological existence. In the next sentence, he says that the life he now lives “in the flesh” (that is, in the body), he lives “by faith in the Son of God”. He has been crucified, and in one sense no longer lives. Yet, he still does live.

Only, now it is not himself who is the centre of his existence.  It is Jesus who is living within him. His life now finds its source in Christ. Everything he does is for Christ, in the strength of Christ, and for the glory of Christ. This is what it meant to Paul to have Christ living in his heart.

Closing Thoughts:

  • Do you believe that Jesus and his Father come to live within us when we become Christians?
  • What do you think Paul meant when he said that it was Christ who was living in him?

– Andrew Young