The coming of Jesus Christ signifies the beginning of the ultimate expression of God’s presence with man. His very name – Emmanuel – means God with us, or God among us. John 1:1 tells us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In verse 14, John writes, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”. This dwelling has the idea of dwelling in a tent. Christ “tabernacled” among us. God had been with Israel in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple, but now God the Son, by adding to himself a true and perfect human nature, was tabernacling among mankind in the most intimate way yet. God was in the presence of men as a man. This is why John adds to verse 14, “And we beheld His glory”.
When Jesus came, he came not simply to dwell among us. He came to die for the sin that alienates man from God. In other words, he came to make it possible for us to live in God’s presence in loving communion. Because of the Incarnation, it is possible for humans to become the Bride of Christ, married to God the Son. We know there is coming a day when this marriage will be consummated. We will live in God’s presence physically, and know and see him in unprecedented ways.
And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. (Revelation 21:3)
Does this mean we must wait for Heaven to live in his presence? No! Christians are able to live in God’s presence now, and so come to know him and thereby love him. Shortly before his death, Jesus began to teach his disciples how this would be possible. He said, paradoxically, it would occur by his leaving and sending of the Third Person of the Trinity, who could indwell all believers and mediate the presence of Christ. In his incarnation, Christ was in one place at a time. With the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, believers around the world could be in the presence of Christ.
And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever — the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. (John 14:16-20)
In what way will Christ come and not leave believers as orphans? In the sense he is speaking of here, he will come when the Spirit comes to dwell in believers.
Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. (John 14:23)
Here is the New Testament version of communing with God in his presence. Once we are justified, God the Holy Spirit comes to live within us, locating the very presence of God in our bodies, rendering them temples. He can do this because at the moment of justification, we are placed in Christ. All Christ’s merits and all his righteousness are imputed to us, and we are hidden in him. Since that makes us positionally perfect and pleasing to God, God is pleased to come and dwell within us permanently. God the Spirit becomes a pledge – a down payment – that the presence of God we now have in him will one day be consummated in being in God’s presence in Heaven and seeing him (Eph 4:30).
After the Incarnation, Scripture emphasises that believers are in Christ, while at the same time, Christ is in them by the Holy Spirit. Jesus spoke of this several times.
At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. (John 14:20)
He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. (John 6:56, cf. 17:23, 17:26, Gal 2:20 Eph 1:3, Col 1:27)
How does this truth enable us to know and love God? This position is the basis of our confidence to keep approaching God and living in his presence. Living in God’s presence is no longer a matter of having to make your way to some faraway Temple or Tabernacle, where God’s presence is particularly manifest. The glory of the Christian life is that God has chosen to dwell within his people, and it is now possible to experience his presence at all times, in all places. The merits of Christ make it possible for God to continually dwell in you and never leave you nor forsake you. The presence of the Holy Spirit means you do not have to shout with raised tones to reach God, for he is within you. You do not have to find a priest who can mediate God’s presence to you, for the indwelling Christ is your High Priest. The presence is the relationship.
Not a-nigh me, but within me
Is Thy joy divine;
Thou, O Lord, hast made Thy dwelling
In this heart of mine.
– Gerhardt Tersteegen
How do believers respond to the indwelling presence of God, so as to know him and love him? Jesus explained it through a simple image: abide.
Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5)
Do not look for hidden meanings in the word abide. It simply means to dwell. Abiding is the idea of living together. Branches must live, remain, or dwell in the vine to bear fruit and stay alive. Believers must live in God’s presence. Since you are now located in Christ, and since he now abides in you through the presence of the Spirit, then dwell together. Live together as those in relationship. Commune with him in his presence.
From family life, we know what this means. If you live with someone, that relationship can either be pleasant or unpleasant. Pleasant relationships result when co-dwellers deliberately try to enjoy one another, by avoiding the things that displease the other, asking for forgiveness for wrongs done, and seeking to please the other. As enjoyment and pleasure increases, knowledge of one another grows, for real sharing of one another grows where there is trust, devotion, and enjoyment.
Abiding in Christ is really no different. He is in us by the Spirit, and we are in him. Positionally speaking, we cannot be removed from him. However, our experience of his presence is dependent on how we choose to dwell with him. We can choose to know him and please him in deliberate ways, learning to love what he loves and hate what he hates. If we do this, we will find ourselves in a delightful cycle of knowing Christ more and more. Paul describes this cycle in Ephesians 3:
That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height — to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:16-19)
When the Spirit’s work in us in not quenched, Christ’s presence in us is lavishly felt, and abundantly expressed. When this atmosphere of loving him roots and grounds the relationship, we go on to deeper levels of knowing the love of Christ. Conversely, we can slow the process down by sinning against our Divine Indweller.
There is a way of living that grieves God and quenches a full experience of knowing him. There is way of living in harmony with his presence, that brings greater knowledge of him. What is the difference?