Sunday school teachers sometimes speak of iniviting Jesus into our hearts with a picture of a red heart with a door in the middle. Of course, this is only figurative. Jesus does not live in little room in the organ that pumps blood through our body. But what does the Scripture mean when it speaks of Christ dwelling in us?
Colossians 1:27 describes this truth as having been hidden for ages but has now been revealed to the Lord’s people: “To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” This previously unrevealed truth was God’s acceptance of the Gentiles as His people, made possible through the work of Jesus Christ. This verse emphasizes not a physical location but rather the intimacy of the relationship.
Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3:16–17, in which he reveals how this “indwelling” takes place, also reflects this emphasis. Christ’s presence within us happens by faith and through the Holy Spirit. We enter into a relationship with Christ by faith. Once we have trusted in Jesus, we are strengthened by the Holy Spirit so that we can both enjoy a relationship with Christ and live for Him. The role of the Holy Spirit mediates Christ’s presence to us, which allows us to understand how the incarnate Christ can be located in heaven and also dwell in our hearts.
This experience takes place in “the inner being,” the nonmaterial part of us that makes decisions and relates to others, the seat of our affections, the locus of volition, and the source of our sense of self. Only those who have trusted in Christ’s saving work for them can claim to be indwelt in this way.
The indwelling of Christ is also described as “the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). This hope is grounded in the expectation that one day we will be transformed into Christ’s likeness (1 John 3:2). As a result of the saving work of Christ, we will both see Christ in His glory and reflect it ourselves. Even now, the presence of the Holy Spirit provides us with a foretaste of glory by providing assurance that we belong to Christ and empowering us for obedience.
Christ does not live inside our bodies in a literal sense. His presence in us is closer even than skin.
To learn more, read The Indwelling Life of Christ by Major Ian Thomas (Multnomah).