This may seem rather a pointless question, until we consider that it admits of two (if not more) possible answers:
- Jesus is in my heart!
- Jesus is in heaven!
Certainly, the first of these reflects what many Christians believe and say. They talk about ‘accepting Christ’, or ‘receiving Jesus into the heart’.
As the old chorus would have us sing:
You ask me how I know he lives –
He lives within my heart!
The idea that Jesus resides ‘in the heart’ of the believer is not without some plausibility.
Jn 1:11f – ‘To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.’ The applicability of this today is in some doubt, because it is cast in the past tense. When Jesus was on this earth he could be received or rejected. But since Jesus’ ascension to heaven it his emissary, the Holy Spirit, who is to be ‘received’. The apostolic pattern is repentance toward God, belief in Jesus Christ, and receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).
Col 1:27 – ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory.’ The ‘you’ is plural, and so the meaning is that Christ is in his church, corporately, rather than in each individual.
Mt 18:20 – ‘Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.’ Apart from the simple observation that Jesus is here said to be ‘with’, and not ‘in’ those who come together in his name, the context is not that of worship, but of the settlement of disputes between believers. The relevance to the matter in hand is therefore in some doubt. Even if the meaning were stretched to include public worship, then the emphasis is still with a corporate, rather than an individual, presence (as with Col 1:27).
Mt 28:20 – ‘I am with you, to the end of the age.’ Something similar could be said of this precious promise of our Lord. It is promise that he would be with his people (corporately), rather than in each believer (individually).
Gal 2:20 – ‘I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.’ Since the language of the first part of this expression is obviously non-literal, it is reasonable to suppose that the latter part should be taken less literally than is often supposed. The meaning might well be: ‘I have put my old life behind me, and the character of Christ is now being reproduced in my new life life.’ This interpretation is supported by what Paul then immediately goes on the write: ‘The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’
The idea of Christ residing within the heart of the believer, although not totally alien to the teaching of the New Testament, is not so prominent as is often supposed. The dominant theme is of Jesus Christ risen, ascended and now reigning at the right hand of the Father, and of indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Of course, God is a tri-unity, and no one member acts acts on his own. Thus, the Holy Spirit is referred to as ‘the Spirit of Christ’ and ‘the Spirit of God’ (Rom 8:9). Our bodies are ‘temples of the Spirit’ (1 Cor 6:19), ‘temples of God’ (1 Cor 3:16), and members of Christ (1 Cor 6:15).
Nevertheless, there is some distinction between the members of the Trinity, such that it is mainly the Spirit who is thought of as in us, whereas we are thought of as being in Christ.
The implications of this are far-reaching. To contemplate Christ as residing in heaven confers great dignity on our position in him.
Eph 2:6 – ‘God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.’
It lifts our thoughts and desires above this earthly sphere:
Col 3:1 – ‘Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.’
And it makes us long to be where he is:
Phil 1:23 – ‘My desire is to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.’
(Based on David Pawson, Where is Jesus Now? And What is He Doing? Chapter 9)