Do We Want Christ To Live In Us?
Fr. Luke A. Veronis
How many of us truly want Jesus Christ to live in us, to know that God is always with us, dwelling in us? Shouldn’t that be the goal of our Christian lives? Isn’t that the Good News we try to proclaim week after week – that God wants to live in each one of us, and He wants us to live in Him?!?
Our fundamental and central goal of life as Christians is not only to discover God, not only to believe in Him, but it is primarily to be united with God. To become one with Him, and to live in union with Him each and every day. And this beautiful union with God only grows in its depth and love the more we open up our hearts to receive Him and the more we allow Christ to live freely in our lives. Remember that we are finite being, yet finite beings who try to connect with an infinite God. Thus, our journey into God’s boundless love is a never-ending journey filled with wonder and awe!
This is what Saint Paul tries to describe when he says today in his letter to the Galatians, “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.” (Gal 2:19-20)
This should be our ultimate goal as Orthodox Christians – to have Christ living in each one of us. What an exciting and awe-inspiring aim in life, to have Jesus Christ living and dwelling in us!
Yet, here comes the challenge. In order for Christ to come and dwell in us, we have to make space for Him in our daily lives. We can’t fill our minds and hearts every day with the cares and desires and passions of the world, and then expect Christ to be one of many other interests in our lives. Our faith cannot simply be one of our many passions and desires.
If we honestly look at ourselves, many of us treat Jesus Christ and our Orthodox Christian faith as something we may claim to be important, maybe as something that would make our top ten list of priorities, but truth be told, it’s not at the top of the list.
I say this because I see priorities by how we live our lives, how we value what we have in life, how we prioritize our time, our effort, our finances, our passions in our every day lives. Do you want to take a test and see what’s truly important in your life? Let each of us look carefully at our daily calendar and see where we spend our time? How much time do we give trying to connect with God each day, or even think about God? Let each of us analyze our check book and banking account, and see where and how we spend our money? Do we prioritize God in our finances? Jesus said where you treasure is, there your heart will be. How each of us spends our time daily, and on what we spend our money will show what we truly prioritize in our lives.
Here lies our great challenge. The Bible describes God as a jealous God. He makes very clear what He expects from His people and how He wants us to prioritize Him above all else!
Remember when Jesus bluntly told His followers, “If anyone loves father or mother more than me, you are not worthy of me. And if you love son or daughter more than me you are not worthy of me.” That’s an extremely hard teaching for many of us to take to heart. Christ warns us that no matter how wonderful family may be, no matter how much we love them, IF we love them more than Christ we are not worthy of Him. If we place our family as our first priority, we are not giving God His proper place in our lives
Let me give another example difficult example. St. Paul writes to the Christians in Rome, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” What a great challenge to hear – do not be conformed to this world but to be transformed by the will of God! The world tempts us daily with dreams of what is rich and fun and sexy and cool. Society tempts us with an impression of happiness coming from material beauty and temporary pleasures. Every day social media and all the internet marketing make us feel that we need to have whatever they offer, because only then will we look good and feel happy.
Being conformed to the world deceives us into allowing our sporting passions – whether for the New England Patriots or the Boston Celtics or the Red Sox – to become an idolatry instead of a pastime. Being conformed to the world deceives us into believing that our political passions, whether “Make America Great Again” with Donald Trump or trying to save our country from destruction with Joe Biden and the Democrats will solve the world’s problems. Being conformed to the world deceives us into thinking that fulfilling our sexual dreams and desires will bring us ultimate happiness.
There are many temptations that try to fill our hearts and lives, temptations that often make ridiculous promises of happiness, contentment, and meaning. Yet as St. Augustine once said, “Our heart will remain restless until it rests in God.”
God knows this, and that is why He wants to dwell at the center of our lives. Only He will fill our hearts and lives with ultimate and eternal meaning and contentment. Christ wants to live and dwell in each one of us, and if He does, His peace and love and joy will overflow in our hearts.
Yet we have to make space for Him. We have to prioritize Him in our lives. Jesus reminds us, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with me.” (Rev 3:20) We have to first hear His voice, and then open the door and invite Him in. We have to make room for Him in our lives, and not allow our passions, our desires, our egocentric tendencies to fill up all the space in our heart!
This is precisely what Jesus meant when He said in today’s Gospel reading, “if anyone wants to follow Christ, we must deny ourselves and take up our cross.” In today’s world, denying ourselves and willingly accepting a cross may sound like foolishness. The world offers another perspective by saying, “Allow me to fulfill all your desires and passions; don’t deny them but pursue whatever your desires and passions may be!”
Will we deny our passions, or will we strive to fulfill our passions? There are two paths which lead to very different destinations. This is why St. Paul says, “The word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18)
Do we want the Source of Life, the Fountain of Love, God Almighty to live in us? That is what He wants to do. But we have to learn to deny ourselves, to make space for Him, to prioritize Christ first in our lives. He is knocking and waiting for us to open up. Let’s open up the door of our hearts and welcome Christ to take the first place, the place of honor and priority, in our lives!