I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. (Galatians 2:20)
Christ lives in me!
Paul, who wrote this, tells us (1 Timothy 1:12-17) the kind of man he had been:
I was a blatant sinner, a blasphemer with a foul mouth. I was an angry and violent man. I hated Christians. I regarded the “resurrection” they spoke about as a delusion, a fabrication, and an offense.
Then the risen Christ appeared to me! I was on my way to sinning more, when he stopped me in my tracks. I was blinded by his glory. It was as if the Day of Judgment had come for me.
But I was shown mercy. The grace of the Lord Jesus overflowed to me (1 Timothy 1:14). He displayed his patience in me. He poured out his Spirit upon me.
So, look at me as an example of what he is ready and able to do. Christ lives in me. If he can come to live in a man with a past like mine, then you can be sure that there is hope for you.
“Christ lives in me.” This is a marvelous statement of what it means to be a Christian. The Son of God moves in as the honored guest in your soul.
Think about how the Bible puts this: “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). If you have the idea that Christian faith is about believing in Christ from a distance, think again.
Christ says, “I am knocking on the door of your heart. I want to come in. And when I come in, I want to eat with you. I want to settle into a booth with you, and for the two of us to share breakfast, lunch, and dinner together. That’s the relationship I want with you. And that is why I stand at the door and knock.”
How is Christ present in the soul of a believer?
Christ rose from the dead in a resurrection body, and then ascended into heaven. The resurrection body is different from the bodies we have now, but it is a body. The risen Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven.
Because of this, the presence of Christ’s resurrected body cannot be in your heart any more than it can be on the communion table. So, how is Christ present in the soul of every believer? The answer is, “by the Spirit.”
Jesus spoke about this to his disciples. He said that he must go to his Father. They did not want him to go, but he said, “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7).
Who is this Helper? The answer is, “The Holy Spirit.” Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth… You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17).
The Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, is referred to in the Bible as the “Spirit of God,” the “Spirit of Christ,” the “Holy Spirit,” and the “Spirit of truth,” or simply the “Spirit.”
In one passage, the Holy Spirit is referred to three times—first as the Spirit, then as the Spirit of God, and then as the Spirit of Christ: “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him” (Romans 8:9).
Here is this great reality that stands at the center of the Christian life: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was born in the manger, died on the cross, and rose from the dead, lives by his Spirit in the soul of every Christian believer.
This great truth is written all over the New Testament: “Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
“Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:19). “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ he does not belong to him” (Romans 8:9). “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
The problem of emphasizing Christian duty
Years ago, when I was in my late teens, I came across a book by William Law called, A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life. I thought to myself, “Now that’s what I want! I want a holy life. I want to be devoted to Christ.” So I got the book and started reading. I found it very dry and I didn’t get far. There are 24 chapters. I don’t think I got through more than five before I gave up.
Then last weekend I was reading another book called Evangelical Holiness by Iain Murray, who is a historian, and I was fascinated to find a comment that he makes about William Law:
Any teaching on holiness which puts the main emphasis on the Christian’s duty, turns sanctification into a matter of self-effort, a work dependent on ourselves, or an experience we have to seek. If that were the case, it would not be good news. Grace would fall into the second place and our works would be put before the grace of God.
This is not an imaginary danger. In eighteenth century England, there were clergy who lamented the moral decline and spoke and wrote about holiness. One of them was Willliam Law, who wrote A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life (1729). Yet the teaching of these men brought no change to the church and the nation.
It was because it was not evangelical [i.e. good news]; they directed non-Christians to live as though they were Christians. It was only when Whitefield, the Wesleys, and others began to preach Christ, the necessity of the Holy Spirit, and the new birth that a real and mighty change began. [i]
You see what Ian Murray is saying: A message that is simply a call to a more disciplined and moral life will never bring significant or lasting change. These 18th century men preached and wrote a message that revolved around disciplines, and Murray comments, “The teaching of these men brought no change to the church or to the nation.”
200 years later a young student who wanted to grow in holiness was reading this stuff and he thought, “There’s no life in this, no power!” But then, says Murray, along came George Whitfield and the Wesleys (John and Charles):
When they and others preached Christ; when they preached the necessity of the Holy Spirit and the new birth there was a remarkable change not only in Britain, but also here in America. People were converted. Christ came to dwell in their hearts through his Spirit. People experienced new life, new joy, new peace, and new power.
If you feel that all this is beyond you, I simply ask you this question: Can you see that if the Spirit of Jesus Christ were to live as an honored guest in your soul, to dwell in your mind and heart, to settle down in your desires, and in your conscience, and even in your memories, if that were to happen, it would be entirely different from you doing your best to be a good Christian?
I hope you know what I am talking about from your own experience. But if you don’t, I hope you’ll be awakened to what it really means to be a Christian, and that you will not rest until you can say with clarity and joy, “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
What the “Good News” of the Indwelling Christ Means for Us
1. The Christian is never truly alone.
If you are in Christ and Christ is in you, he is with you wherever you go. At your lowest moment, when you feel isolated, abandoned, and alone, you can say, “The Lord is at my right hand, therefore I will not be shaken” (Psalm 16:8).
There’s a prayer that we often pray. It is somewhat redundant, “Lord, Mary is sick, please be with her. Lord, Jim is undergoing this great trial, please be with him.” I’ve prayed like that many times, as I am sure you have.
It’s good to pray that a person will be aware of the presence of Christ as they move through a time of trial. But it’s good to remember that a prayer for Christ to be with a Christian in trouble is a prayer that has already been answered.
When you know that Christ lives in you, then you can say with David, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” (Psalm 27:1). You can say with Paul, “If God be for me, who can be against me?” (Romans 8:31). And you can say with John, “Greater is he who is in me than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
2. Christ knows directly all that you face and feel and fear.
Christ has a real time awareness of every trial and every temptation you face.
Some of you have told me that you enjoyed watching Downton Abbey, an English drama from the early 20th century set in a stately home, where the servants live, eat, and work downstairs, while the earl and his family enjoy their stately home upstairs.
One distinguishing feature of the house is that it has a system of little bells that ring in the kitchen with a pull cord in every room. The earl and his family can call for anything that they need. When the bell rings downstairs, it indicates exactly where the need is, so that the servants can make an immediate response.
Here is something very wonderful: Christ has installed a bell system that connects your heart with heaven. This is a bell system in reverse, because the bells ring in heaven. It is a bell system in which the servants ring for the help of the Master.
This is worth thinking about: The Spirit of Christ lives in your heart. He feels the approach of every trial and temptation, and he pulls the cord that rings the bell in heaven. Christ knows directly all that you face and feel and fear.
And Christ does not roll his eyes when the bell rings. We have a high priest who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses. Why? He has been downstairs. He has been tempted and tested in every respect. And now, as your advocate, he brings your need before the Father so that all the resources of heaven are available for you.
“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Come with confidence, because the bell has already been rung. Christ knows all that you face and feel and fear, and he is for you!
3. The Spirit of Christ is actively at work in your soul.
Think about the work of the Spirit in the life of a believer: The Spirit gives us understanding of the Word. The Spirit convicts of sin. The Spirit makes us holy. The Spirit equips us with gifts for ministry and thrusts out the people of God into every sphere of life. The Spirit intercedes for us.
The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.
The Spirit of God is always working in the life of a believer. I cannot think of a greater incentive to care for my soul than to know that he cares so actively about me. I cannot think of a greater motivation to work for God than to know that he works so powerfully in me. I cannot think of a greater reason for hope than to know that at the hardest moments of life the Spirit of God Almighty, the Spirit of Jesus (who died and rose) is for you and is actively at work in you.
“Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27)—the presence of Christ with you, the sympathy of Christ toward you, the strength of Christ in you… that’s what is going to get you through. Christ in you! That’s your hope of glory!
To all who would say today, “That’s exactly what I need,” he says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20).
[i] Iain Murray, Evangelical Holiness and Other Addresses, p. 32, Banner of Truth, 2013