“So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth …” Eph 3:17-18
Again, much going on in this little text. But let’s focus on the little phrase, “that Christ will live in your hearts.”
So, let us get some things out of the way and provide some clarity. The “heart,” to 21st century Americans means something very different than it did to the people of the Bible. For us, now, the word “heart” is ambiguous. It means either a major circulatory organ in our bodies (“He has heart disease”) or it is the seat of our emotional life.
If we feel some emotion, we say it comes from our heart – especially if that emotion is romantic love. The nonsense (IMHO) of Valentine’s Day with red ‘heart’-shaped symbols and the most insipid sentimental tropes about affections is well-known to us. In that meaning, the heart is about feelings, emotions, affections, sentimentality.
But not always. Even for us in our current use of the word, it is a strong statement to say, from a dark and negative place, “I have hate for him in my heart.” However, that is closer to the Biblical idea of our heart.
In Bible, “heart” is the core of our being. The saying, “Getting to the heart of the matter” reflects this older meaning. Your heart is your inner being of consciousness. Feelings, thoughts, aspirations, imagination, loyalties, and even our humanness flow out from the center of our being, our heart. So, whenever you read the word, “heart” in the Bible know that for both of the original languages of Hebrew and Greek, “heart” means our core, our center, our essential nature.
The goal is to have Christ “alive” in our core being. That is what Paul is praying for.
But, as a prayer request … that strikes me as odd. Does Paul not think all these people are Christians, that they do not have Christ living in their lives? Certainly, that is possible. There is a lot that is said in this letter that not-yet-believing people need to hear. Yet the whole thrust of the letter is that Paul is talking to saved, regenerate (born from above) believers in Jesus.
It seems better to me to understand this prayer request as a request for God to grant strength (health, power, and endurance) in the believers’ inner lives … so that, in order that, to facilitate … the life of Jesus would become manifest, present, and visible to themselves, and each other. To condense this: ‘God, give them strength to allow Jesus to live in them.’
That there is a good prayer.
This only happens for Jesus people. Non-believers are – um – ‘immune’ from this prayer. They live in rejection of the real Jesus and, therefore, are prevented from having Jesus-life in their hearts.
This is the Divide. Those who acknowledge Jesus as their Savior and Lord; and those who do not. As an old time preacher once said, “There only two kind of people: the Saints and the Aints – that’s it.”