Question: "What does it mean that in Him we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28)?"
Answer: In Acts 17:22–31, we find Paul’s masterful sermon before the Areopagus in Athens. The missionary apostle begins by presenting a totally “unknown god” to his proud and intellectual pagan Greek audience. Next, Paul introduces the God of the Bible, who is Creator of the Universe, Giver and Sustainer of Life, Ruler of the Nations, and the One True God who is close enough to reveal Himself to those who seek Him. Then, quoting directly from ancient Greek poetic literature, Paul says, “‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said” (Acts 17:28).
Paul, greatly distressed by the idolatry he saw in Athens (Acts 17:16), was moved to share the good news of salvation with these people. It wasn’t long before he was presented with perhaps the greatest opportunity of his entire ministry—to share the gospel with the legendary high council of Athens, the Areopagus. With his extraordinary gift for knowing how to address every crowd he faced, Paul uses a quotation from the sixth-century BC Cretan poet Epimenides of Cnossos to help illustrate his teaching to the highly sophisticated philosophers at the Areopagus.
Sin separates us from God, “yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being,’” preached Paul (Acts 17:27–28, ESV). He cited the crowd’s own poets to capture their attention and expose the contradiction in their thinking. He wanted the Athenians to know that God is not a lifeless idol fashioned by human hands of wood, gold, silver, or stone. He is a living God, and in Him we live. The word live is a translation of the classical Greek word for the physical vitality of life. It expresses the reality that living creatures rise up and move with distinctive energy, unlike idols that merely sit still. They cannot move about except by human power and will.
Paul’s next statement, “We are his offspring” (verse 28), also the words of an ancient Stoic poet-philosopher, further developed this idea. Humans are children of God. He is their Father in the natural sense (Genesis 1:27; Malachi 2:10; Luke 3:38; Ephesians 3:14), thus proving that the living God is far superior to dead idols.
Even though in Him we live and move and have our being is a secular quotation, it is no less biblically accurate.
In Him we live.
No other words more perfectly express our constant dependence on God. He is the original fountain and source of life (Psalm 36:9). Scripture tells us that God is the giver of life and breath (Genesis 2:7; Acts 17:25). Humanity owes all the qualities and capacities of life to God.
Jesus said, “Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him” (Luke 20:38, ESV). Believers experience the fullness of life through a relationship with God in Jesus Christ (John 6:33; Colossians 2:6–15; Romans 6:3–11). Jesus, who is God in the flesh, is “the resurrection and the life.” Anyone who believes in Him receives His life (John 11:25), and He gives life to anyone He wants (John 5:21).
In Him we move.
Our strength, both physical and spiritual, comes from God (Psalm 68:35). “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:29–31). Again, these words communicate our absolute and continual reliance on God. Even to perform the slightest motion, we are utterly dependent on Him.
If in Him we move, all that we do ought to be done in love (1 Corinthians 16:14) because God is love (1 John 4:8). As we depend on God, every move we make should be carried out for the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
In Him we have our being.
Life is a gift. We owe our continued existence to God (Ecclesiastes 5:19; Romans 6:23). He upholds us every moment; He sustains us by His powerful Word (Hebrews 1:3). We are all created by God, and in Him all things hold together (Colossians 1:16–17). We cannot exist apart from Him.
In Him we live and move and have our being means our entire existence depends wholly on God.