In previous articles we have looked at some spiritual gems in Paul’s letter to the Galatians and especially the wonderful truths in Galatians 2:20, I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. However there are other passages in the New Testament which also speak of the presence of God among His people. We will consider some of them below before we move on from the Gal 2:20 passage. Indeed Paul goes on later in Galatians to spell out even more about the presence of God in human lives.
1). The Presence Of God In Believers Was Taught By The Apostles
Galatians 3. Receiving the Holy Spirit. In the epistle to the Galatians St Paul reminded his readers that they had received the Holy Spirit when they had responded by faith to the gospel message. He asked them, Gal 3:2 “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” They knew the answer. It was the latter. They had to go on in the Spirit rather than go back to living as they once had. Now they were meant to be relying on the Holy Spirit to guide and empower them. So he rebuked them, 3 “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” The flesh had no power to bring them to maturity. Only the Holy Spirit of God within them could do so.
Galatians 5. Walking by the Spirit. In chapter 5 he exhorts them to go on in the Spirit, or to walk by the Spirit, Gal 5:16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. They had a choice to make. They could live by the lusts of their lower nature (the flesh) or they could live under the direction of the Holy Spirit. The flesh and the Spirit were opposed to each other, 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. God through Paul wanted them to be guided and directed by His Spirit and not revert to legalistic living, 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. The false teachers in their midst were trying to seduce them to observe the law. The time had come for the Galatians to reject the false teaching and to walk in the way God wanted them to walk, in the way of the Spirit.
Galatians 5. The “fruit” of the Spirit. Paul now describes the contrast between the two ways of living by referring to the “works of the flesh” and “the fruit of the Spirit”. The “works” were all the nasty things not characteristic of God such as “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.” 5:19-21. Those who lived in this way would not inherit the kingdom of God, 5:21. Paul then describes the “fruit of the Spirit” in Gal 5:22-23 which is to characterise the people of God. We note that “fruit” is (karpos) a singular word rather than “fruits” in the plural. The fruit is the outward evidence of the life within.
The outward evidence of God’s life and character is seen in the fruit produced in the believer’s life. The fruit consists of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control.” The first three parts of that fruit were qualities that Jesus said He would share with His disciples. For example, Jesus had said of His love, Jn 15:9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love. Jesus had said of His joy, Jn 15:11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. He had said of His peace, Jn 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. The other parts of the fruit of the Spirit were recognizable in the way in which God Himself had dealt with His people over generations.
What a different world it would be if everyone manifested the fruit of the Spirit! Imagine everyone around you (including you) being characterised all the time by those fine characteristics. It is only possible, as Paul wrote, when those who belong to Christ “crucify the flesh with its passions and desires. If the Spirit had brought the Galatians life, then they should “keep in step with the Spirit.” 5:24-25. (“Keep in step” is from the Greek word “stoicheo” meaning to “walk in rows”. Paul also used it in Romans to remind his readers that they needed to walk in the footsteps of the faith that Abraham had walked in.) It meant that Christian living had to do with allowing God to guide them by His Spirit and also allowing Him to express Himself through the lives of His people as the outward fruit or expression of His inward presence.
Ephesians 2:21-22. God Present In His Temple. Paul wrote about the church in verses 21-22, “in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place (Gk. katoikētērion)[i] for God by the Spirit.” God dwelling in His church as He once was considered to dwell in the temple. But this temple is made up of living stones as Peter wrote of believers in 1Peter 2:5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. The church is the body of Christ made up of individual members. What is true for the body is also true for each individual. They become part of the temple God is building and in whose presence He comes to dwell by His Spirit.
God indwells His people. He indwells every individual believer because each individual’s body is a temple and part of the temple in which Christ lives by His Spirit. (See 1 Cor 3:16, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells (Gk. oikeo) in you?” “In” is the preposition (“en” the usual word for “in”). God’s Spirit lives in His people. See also 1 Cor 6:19, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” Again the Holy Spirit is said to be “within” (Gk. “en”) the believers. They had a responsibility to glorify God through the bodies in which Christ lived by His Spirit. Even though they were indwelt by the divine presence they still had to play their part in allowing Him to express or manifest His presence through them. (It makes one wonder how much more about God would be known in the world today if His people had set out to glorify Him for every moment of their lives.)
Eph 3:16-17. The Presence Of God In The “Inner Being” And “Hearts” Of Believers. Paul prayed for Christ to dwell in the inner being of the Ephesian believers. He reminded them of the reality of the presence of God within them by telling them what he prayed for them. In Ephesians 3:16-17 he said he prayed that they might be “strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” The Spirit of God would indwell and inwardly strengthen their inner being (Gk. ésō anthrōpos = inner man), and Christ would dwell in them.
It is interesting that Paul in verse 17 uses the word (katoikéō) for “dwell”. It means to make a permanent home. He is praying that Christ might make His permanent home within them. There may be a sense here that Paul is suggesting that he wants Christ to feel at home in His home, in their hearts. They would have realised that Christ did live within them. He wasn’t going to leave them. However they needed to welcome and accommodate His presence. They also needed to understand that they had to open every area of their lives to Him so that He could manifest His presence and power in and through each part of their lives.
Eph 3:19. To Be Filled With The Fullness Of God. Paul told the Ephesians that he prayed for them that they might be “filled with all the fullness of God.” It is a scary thought that ordinary believers could be filled with all the fullness of God. However finite human beings cannot comprehend or contain the infinite. Even Solomon who built a house for Yahweh to dwell in had to acknowledge that the house he had built could not contain God, 1Kings 8:27, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!”
The phrase in Eph 3:19 is “filled (eis) all the fullness of God.” (eis) is a preposition normally meaning “into” rather than “with” or “by”. Humans cannot contain the fullness of God. But they can be filled into the measure of His fullness, meaning to the capacity of their human ability to receive that fullness. It may be better to consider “fullness” not in terms of quantity, but in terms of the presence of God. To the extent that they opened to their lives to Him, He could manifest the reality of His presence through them.
Colossians 1:27. The Mystery. “Christ In You, The Hope Of Glory. Paul was not a mystery writer but he did expose the truth about a mystery which God Himself had revealed. It was the mystery concerning the gospel or good news for the Gentiles. As Gentile believers they belonged! To God! Through faith in Christ! As he put it in Col 1:27, To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. What an amazing truth that God had a place for the despised Gentiles in His eternal purposes. The place He had for them was to be present among them and indeed to live in their hearts. As A.T. Robertson wrote, “the idea of (en) here is “in”, not “among”. It is the personal experience and presence of Christ in the individual life of all believers that Paul has in mind, the indwelling Christ in the heart as in Eph 3:17.[ii]
Col 2:9-10. Filled by or with Christ. “For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ, 10 and you have been filled by Him, who is the head over every ruler and authority. Christ is filled with the all the fullness of God. Then comes verse 10 whose literal translation is “and you are in Him having been filled.” It is uncertain whether Paul means that Jesus is the instrument by whom they are filled or whether He is the sphere in which they are filled. Whatever it is, they are filled to whatever capacity they are able to be filled with His presence as human disciples. Having Him in His fullness within them meant that they did not need anyone else or anything else to be made complete.
2). The Presence Of God In Believers Was Experienced By Believers
2 Corinthians 4:10-11. The presence of Christ was seen in Christian people. They experienced His presence. Paul wrote in 2 Cor 4:10-11 about that experience, that he and other believers were “always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” The more that they died to sin, the more the life of Jesus within them could be recognised in and through their lives. “Manifested” is from Gk. (phaneroo) meaning to appear or to make visible. When believers are dying to themselves, it allows Christ to manifest the reality of His presence in and through their human bodies.
What an encouraging and challenging truth for today! People today can see Jesus! In the lives of His followers! Hopefully by the grace of God, the Christ they see will be the Christ of the New Testament and not a pale reflection or a distorted image. Jesus hasn’t changed. But it behoves all believers to reflect Him faithfully as they live in the fishbowl of this world. How wonderful it would be if newcomers to the faith were to say to us, “I was attracted to Jesus because I saw Him in you and I decided to follow Him myself!”
3). The Presence Of Christ In His People Brings Him Honour. Php 1:20-21
Philippians 1:20-21. as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honoured in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. “Honoured” is (megalunō) meaning to magnify or exalt. Paul wanted to live in such a way that Christ would be exalted in and through his body. If death were to come, Paul wanted to honour Jesus through His death. What Paul desires is that others see Christ in him and through him, no matter what might happen to him. It makes us ask the question, “Am I living for my own glory and honour or do I want Jesus to be always honoured and glorified through my life and through my death?”
In verse 21 we see the godly motivation behind Paul’s life. Paul declares that Christ meant everything to him. His life was centred around Christ. He was totally committed to Him. He wanted Jesus to be seen in and through him for every moment of his life. Even to the point of his death. Death for him would not be loss. It would be a gain. It would introduce him to a life in perfect union with Christ for ever. He was torn between two important desires. To remain on earth to help fellow believers or to be with Christ, Php 1:22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far. 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith. Paul saw it as a win-win situation. His life would bring glory to God. So too would his death. For the sake of others he was willing to forego an earlier entrance into the totality of the presence of God. On earth he could help others grow to maturity.
We close with the words of our text from our original text in Gal 2:20-21, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Paul the new creature in Christ, had opened his life to God, so that Jesus might be seen to be alive in him and through him. We too need to be so committed to Him that He may be magnified and exalted in our lives as well.
[i] The only other reference to this word in the New Testament is in Revelation 18:2 where Babylon is described as a “dwelling place” for demons. What a contrast with the concept of the presence of God dwelling in human lives.
[ii] AT Robertson, in “Word Pictures In The New Testament” article on Col 1:27.
Blog No 156. Jim Holbeck. Posted on Tuesday 29th July 2014
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- The Searching And Knowing God Who Loves And Cares: Reflections on Psalm 139.
- The Godly Reward for True Humility. Studies in St Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians.
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