You may have already been taught about the difficulties of communication. That’s because it is not just what you say, but what others hear, that’s required to successfully communicate. Nowhere is this more readily felt than by pastors in the church. They might be teaching on one subject, but their parishioners may be considering another topic entirely. For instance, can I really have Jesus in my heart? It might seem like a simple question with a straightforward answer, but how should a pastor respond?
It may surprise you to learn that there is only one place where the Bible specifically refers to Jesus living in a person’s heart. Writing to the Ephesians Paul prays that believers would be “strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith” (Eph. 3:17). The Bible far more regularly speaks of God’s Spirit living in the hearts of believers, such as in Romans 5:5 where it states that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
So when it comes to beginning a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, encouraging someone to “invite Jesus in my heart” can be misleading. God calls people to repent (i.e., turn away) from their sin and believe (i.e., trust) in Jesus Christ to receive forgiveness for their sins and the gift of eternal life (Acts 3:19-21; Rom. 10:9-10; Eph. 2:1-10; 1 Thes. 1:2-10). Those who repent and believe become children of God (John 1:12-13), and because of that “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Gal. 4:6). So unless a person is turning from their sin and trusting in what Jesus has done for them to be forgiven, they are not a Christian. Even if they have “invited Jesus in my heart.”
Having said that, it is a glorious reality that the Spirit of Jesus Christ lives inside his people. When God created humanity, he dwelled with them in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:8). Because of Adam’s sin, humanity could no longer dwell in God’s presence (Gen. 3:22-24). Once the nation of Israel was formed God dwelled with his people, first in the tabernacle (Exod. 40:34-38) and then in the temple (1 Kings 8:1-11). But when they, like Adam, continued to sin, God’s presence eventually left the temple (Ezek. 10:1-22).
So God promised a day when he would institute a new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34), and as part of that new covenant, he would put his Spirit inside his people (Ezek. 36:27). To make that a reality the Son of God took on flesh to dwell among us (John 1:14). Because of his death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven, he has sent his Spirit to dwell in his people as the new temple of God (Acts 2:14-36). All of this is in anticipation of the day when, in a new heaven and a new earth, “the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:3-4).
As believers that is our hope, “And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1 John 3:3). As God’s temple, we must pursue purity in thought, attitude, speech, and action (1 Cor. 6:19-20). Through his Spirit, Jesus lives in us to fight sin (Rom. 8:12-17) and empowers us to serve one another in love (Gal. 5:13-26). That is what it means to have Jesus in my heart by faith.
Earning your Master’s of Divinity at Grace Theological Seminary is not simply about being able to put letters behind your name. It is about being able to shepherd God’s people into a life of truth, obedience, and practical application. You can learn more about our ministry degrees and the variety of delivery methods we offer for you to pursue them.
Matthew S. Harmon, Professor of New Testament studies, loves to help people understand the beauty of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Scriptures, seeing it as the key to life transformation (2 Corinthians 3:18). As a result, the focus of his ministry is teaching and preaching God’s word in various contexts. He has a passion for research and writing, specializing in the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament, biblical theology, commentary writing and the Pauline epistles. He is an active member of Christ’s Covenant Church, where he leads a small group, teaches Sunday School, and serves on the preaching team.