… that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. Ephesians 3:17
We often hear in the language of Christians, sentiments like: Have you asked Jesus to come into your heart? This is such a common Christian idea and so widely mentioned in the context of evangelism, that you might find it surprising to discover that this is the only place in the Bible that mentions Christ dwelling in a person’s heart … and it is being prayed, for those who are already believers – already indwelled by the living Christ.
Some may be puzzled by this request. “Does not Christ already dwell in the heart of every believer? How can Paul ask for that which is already true of them?” First, it must be said that every Christian is indeed indwelt by Christ, and is a temple of the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:9-10, 1 Cor 6:19). However, as Charles Hodge rightly comments, “The indwelling of Christ is a thing of degrees.” Graham Scroggie agrees: “… in some Christ is just present, in others He is prominent, and in others again, He is preeminent.” What Paul prays for as he asks, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, (Eph 3:17) is that Christ’s presence might be more real and regnant. As Paul prayed for the strengthening of the inner man in verse 16, he is asking for the Spirit to fortify and invigorate the Christian so that he might ever more lay hold more firmly to Christ, ‘through faith.’ This is understood particularly as we consider the Greek word for dwell, katoikeo, which means to settle down into a permanent abode. The word indicates residence as opposed to mere lodging. The prayer request then is to be considered as one which seeks for Christ to settle down in the hearts of His people, where He might both rule and strengthen them.
Do you really know the Lord Jesus Christ, personally and intimately? Do you know Him as a person? As a person, is He real to you? Is Christ Himself at the center of your life? Is your heart Christ’s home? Paul’s prayer would have every Christian to say “yes,” to all of these questions – that we would enjoy a conscious fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ, as much as or more than we would any individual person. It is written of Hudson Taylor that his daily prayer for himself was:
Lord Jesus make Thyself to me
A living, bright reality;
More present to faith’s vision keen
Than any outward object seen;
More near, more intimately nigh
Than even the sweetest earthly tie.
The presence of Christ in one’s heart is something real; it does not merely mean that Christ exerts an influence on our being, in some general manner; but it means that He literally abides within us. It is faith that reveals this reality to the Christian. Thus Paul’s prayer is that Christ may dwell in your hearts, through faith. Faith makes the fact of Christ in your heart real to you personally.
Do you realize that it is possible for you to know the Lord Jesus Christ intimately? If you truly believe this, is that not what you would ask for in prayer? What greater thing is there than this? Do not miss the grandeur of this prayer request – it is almost too grand for any of us to bear. The all Holy One, the Creator, whom the heaven of heavens cannot contain, actually dwells in frail, sinful human beings – He actually dwells in you! Comprehending this is potentially life changing, which is why Paul prayed earlier (1:18) that you might grasp it. Now he prays that you might be fit for it. Don’t settle for any less than having Christ take possession of your heart completely. To do so means that He is at the center of your life and exercises His will over all that you are and do.
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