"Hereby we know that he [Christ] abideth in us, by the Spirit which he has given us." (1 John 3:24b)
H. O. Jones: Christ lives in us as our Heavenly Guest! What a wonderful and precious truth for the Christian to meditate upon! What a blessed and glorious spiritual reality and experience for every child of God to have here on the earth, and to know in this life! As we undertake this study, therefore, may God bless this truth to our hearts and lives. According to the text, our study ought to consist of two main parts.
I. The Fact of Christ's Indwelling Presence
First let us consider the Apostle John's assurance that Christ now dwells in the hearts and lives of true believers. "We [who accept him as Savior] know that he abideth in us." This precious truth of Christ's Indwelling was once a mystery, hidden from the ages. The word mystery here means a truth known only by revelation. The mystery of His being our Heavenly Guest appears in Paul's Epistle to the Colossians:
"Even the mystery which hath been hid from the ages and generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: whom we preach, warning every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: whereunto I also labor, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily" (1:26-29).
Christ lives in us! Exactly what do these words mean to us now? For the answer let us turn to Alexander Maclaren, noble preacher and "prince of expositors." What he once said in Manchester, England, can be of untold help to us now:
It is not to be weakened into any notion of participation in His likeness, sympathy with His character, submission to His influence, following His example, listening to His instruction, or the like. A dead Plato may so influence his followers, but that is not how a living Christ influences His disciples. What is meant is no mere influence derived, but separable, from Him, however blessed and gracious that influence might be, but it is the Presence of His own Self, exercising influences which are inseparable from his Presence, and only to be realized when He dwells in us.
Beloved, we who know the Lord as our Savior rejoice that we have as our daily Guest the Christ who died on Calvary, the Christ who has arisen and ascended, the Christ who is now seated at the right hand of God the Father, making intercession for us. But listen! We must not stop here. Instead, we must tell the world that this same Jesus who is both Lord and Christ is also desirous of dwelling within the hearts and lives of believers right here on this earth.
This is one truth that makes Christianity unique and distinctive in its pre-eminence over all the other religions of the world today. Consider any of them, whichever one you choose, and you will discover that since the founder or founders of that religion have died none of the followers have had any experiential knowledge of such indwelling on the part of their leader, or leaders. Any such continued presence, or experience, would be utterly impossible. It would be unthinkable. All of those other religious leaders and would-be prophets are now dead, and in their graves are awaiting the judgment of God.
But not so with Christianity! Christianity lives because Christ lives. My friend, Christianity is Christ, and Christ is Christianity. You cannot separate the two, not even in thought. The teachings and the doctrines of Christianity all center in the Living Christ. On the Cross, He once gave His precious and sinless life for the redemption of sinful men and women everywhere. But His death was not the end. According to the authority of God's written Word, on the third day He came forth from the grave as the Victor over death. Now He lives in the heart of every true believer.
In a book entitled "Sanctification", Charles G. Finney further expounds this blessed truth:
"The Spirit of Christ, then, or the real Deity of Christ, dwells in the truly spiritual believer. But this fact needs to be spiritually apprehended [understood], and kept distinctly and continually in view. Christ not only in heaven, but Christ within us, as really and truly inhabiting our bodies as we do, as really in us as we are in ourselves, [this] is the teaching of the Bible, and must be spiritually apprehended by a divine, personal, and inward revelation, to secure our abiding in Him.
"We not only need the real presence of Christ within us, but we need His manifested presence to sustain us in hours of conflict. Christ may be really present within us as He is without us, without our apprehending [taking hold of] His presence. His manifesting Himself to us, as with us and in us, is by Himself conditioned upon our faith and obedience. His manifesting Himself within us, and thus assuring us of His constant and real presence, confirms and establishes the confidence and obedience of the soul."
Yes, it is wonderful to have within our hearts as Christians the personal and abiding presence of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God. Let us, therefore, testify to this truth with all assurance and boldness. With the Apostle may we ever feel ready and glad to bear our witness: "We know that he abideth in us."
II. The Secret of His Indwelling Presence
In the second place the Apostle tells us how the Indwelling of Christ as our Heavenly Guest actually takes place in the hearts of true believers. "Hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us." Through the work of the Holy Spirit, Christ now dwells in the hearts of Christians. In the "days of His flesh" (Heb. 5:7), when He lived in a human body, He chose to be limited in the scope of His ministry. In other words, practically, it was out of the question for Him to be in more than one place at a given time. But after our Lord ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit came to earth at Pentecost and filled the hearts of all the believers gathered together in prayer.
Because of Infilling by the Holy Spirit, the lives of those early believers were transformed, so that they had personal piety and power such as they had never known before. Also, the Scriptures clearly reveal, when they experienced this blessed Infilling, they became conscious of Christ's Indwelling Presence. This experience, too, seemed to them new, strange, and glorious. Christ became more than merely their Savior and Friend, who walked by their side, bringing them inspiration and comfort by His words full of grace. Through the Incoming of the Holy Spirit, this same Christ also became their Heavenly Guest, dwelling within their hearts and lives. He alone became the Lord and Master of their entire being. Henceforth they lived to glorify Christ, not themselves. In Him they found new power over the forces that formerly had defeated them. At last their preaching was full of power. Consequently, their ministry for God became effective in winning souls to Christ, and in furthering the cause of righteousness here upon earth.
Today many professing Christians are living without power, victory, and joy. The reason seems to be simply this: they have not yet fully yielded themselves to God in glad obedience to His will. They have not yet admitted the living Christ to their hearts through the Infilling of the Spirit. These persons know Christ as their Savior. They accept the assurance that their sins have been covered by the Blood, and that their Lord will take them to Him when they die. But these same persons do not yet know Christ as their Indwelling Guest. Since they do not by personal experience know the presence and power of the Indwelling Christ, who would enable them to prevail over the world, the flesh, and the devil, their lives seem to be shallow, weak, and largely devoid of joy. Surely they cannot testify with the Apostle Paul:
I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me (Gal. 2:20).
Today we need desperately to rediscover the difference between these two stages in Christian experience. If we are ever going to produce the sort of believers suited for our day and time, we all need to realize that there is a vast difference between accepting Jesus as our Savior and knowing Him as our Indwelling Guest. Today, as almost never before, we need a generation of believers with spiritual dynamic: believers with Christlike purity, power, and passion. Unless we rediscover the revealed truth that only through the Holy Spirit does Christ dwell in the hearts and lives of believers, we can not begin effectively to meet the challenge of this critical hour. Hence we must not only teach our new converts that they should accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior. We must also carefully lead them to allow the Christ of God, through the Holy Spirit, to come into their hearts as their Heavenly Guest. Unless the believer acknowledges this ministry of the Spirit within his heart and life, how can he ever rightfully call Christ Jesus his Lord?
Dear Christian friend, in this present evil world do you enjoy a life of power and victory? Or in the home, the school, and the shop are you often a weak and defeated follower of the Lord? If so, you need not remain in this pitiful condition, with only enough religion to make you feel restless and wretched. In the Living Christ, a new and transforming experience awaits you. You need only surrender your entire being to God, so that the Holy Spirit may reveal in you the presence and glory of the Indwelling Christ. When you allow Him to become your Heavenly Guest, and thus make your heart His home, He will give you victory. He will give you power for every weakness and solace for every sorrow. Then you will know why the Apostle says:
Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6).
Dear Christian, open your heart to Him now, that He may come in. Behold, the Living Christ stands at the door of your heart, and knocks, with the hand that was pierced on the Cross. If by faith you open the door and let Him come in, He will become your Heavenly Guest, and ever henceforth make His home in your heart. By His Indwelling He will give You victory and peace, with many blessed foretastes of eternal joy. Then you will want to sing and pray with Frances R. Havergal:
Live out Thy life within me,
O Jesus, King of kings;
Be Thou Thyself the answer
To all my questionings.
Live out Thy life within me;
In all things have Thy way;
I, the transparent medium,
Thy glory to display.
Sermon preached by Howard O. Jones, Smoot Memorial Church, Cleveland, Ohio, 1957
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