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We are approaching a section of scriptures that have lead to a number of interpretive difficulties. I want to do my best to not only explain the text, but to explain what it means for the Spirit to dwell in us. As we read the scripture I think it will be clear that Paul is assuring those in Christ, not confusing those in Christ. The text must offer assurance, not more questions, if Paul is going to be successful in driving home the point that there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (8:1).

You Are In The Spirit, Not The Flesh (8:9-11)

In our last lesson we noticed Paul speaking about those who “live according to the flesh” and those who “live according to the Spirit.” Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the flesh. Paul is asking what rules and controls our lives? Who is charge? Is the world leading our lives or is God leading our lives? Where is our allegiance? Notice that this is Paul’s usage in Romans 8:9.

“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.”

I believe this condition immediately tells us that Paul is not talking about the personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Allow me to explain. (1) If the Holy Spirit personally dwells in Christians at the moment they become Christians (Acts 2:38), then Paul cannot question if the Holy Spirit is dwelling in these Christians in Rome. Of course the Holy Spirit is personally dwelling in these Roman readers because they are Christians! (2) If Paul is questioning if these Christians have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them, then he is saying that they did have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them, but it is possible that the Spirit left some of them. How were these Christians to know if the Spirit was still residing in them? By feelings? By prayer? How should we know if the Holy Spirit is in us? This is the problem with understanding Paul to be talking about the literal and personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In such a case I never have any answers of certainty. The whole thing becomes mystical and ethereal, not concrete. Remember that Paul is assuring the readers, not confusing them. (3) Some may respond with verse 10 that we know the Holy Spirit is personally dwelling in us because we are doing things that are right and are living for Jesus. But this is a circular argument. I know I have the Spirit dwelling in me if I do right? I know I do not have the Spirit dwelling in me when I do wrong? This is to say nothing. If the Holy Spirit is in me, then it is controlling me and directing to me to do right. It cannot be the other way around, that is, when I do what is right, the Holy Spirit lives in me. Then what is the point of having the Holy Spirit living in me?

To take this point one step further, if the Holy Spirit lives in us and directs our lives, then what has Paul been talking about in verses 4-8 of chapter 8? Why is he telling us to walk according to the Spirit and set my mind on the things of the Spirit if I have the Holy Spirit living in me and this is not a problem? Just figure out if the Holy Spirit is in you! Paul is misleading us earlier in this chapter if he is telling us that we need to set our minds on the things of the Spirit, only turn now tell us we are directed by the Holy Spirit.

Further, if the Holy Spirit is living in me, then why do I have the conflict of sin as Paul records in Romans 7? I hope you can see my point. If the Holy Spirit personally lives in us, he cannot be doing nothing in there. He must be directing and controlling our lives, otherwise what is the point? But Paul is not instructing us to rely upon the Spirit to tell us what to do within us. Paul has told us that there is a battle inside of us. That battle is described as the law of my mind against the law of sin in my body, not the person of the Holy Spirit against my body. So let’s back up and look at what Paul is saying in its context and see if we can gain greater command of this text.

First, we need to notice how Paul uses terms about the Spirit interchangeably. In verse 9 Paul says, “if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Paul then calls the Spirit “the Spirit of Christ” in verse 9. But in verse 10 Paul drops the word “Spirit” and says, “But if Christ is in you.” Look at verse 11. Now Paul says that, “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you.” Then Paul says, “through his Spirit who dwells in you.” We need to see these as interchangeable terms. To have the Spirit of God dwelling in you is the same as having the Spirit of Christ dwelling in you, which is the same as the Spirit dwelling in you, and this is the same as Christ dwelling in you. What does it mean for these things to dwell in us?

Paul used this same terminology earlier in Romans 7:17 where he said, “So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.” What did Paul mean when he said, “sin dwells within me.” Paul uses the same term of sin dwelling in him in Romans 7:20. For sin to dwell in a person means that he is obeying the passions of the flesh. It means that he is setting his mind on the things of the flesh. It means he is living his life following the way of the world, not the rule of God. No one would accept the idea that sin literally was living in Paul. This is a figure of speech to say that his life was joined together with sin, controlled by sin and its passions.

Now, come back to Romans 8:9-11. What does it mean for Christ to live in you (8:10)? Again, I do not know anyone who says that Jesus Christ literally and personal is living inside of every person who is a Christian. Rather, it means as Paul would write to the Galatians:

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. (Galatians 2:20; ESV)

What did Paul mean? Paul no longer obeys his desires and passions. Paul has killed his old self and does not listen to it any longer. Now he lives for Jesus. He is united to Christ. This is what it means for Christ to dwell in us. We are under the rule of Christ, not the rule of sin. We are following Jesus, not sin. Our allegiance is to Jesus. Christ does not literally and personally live is us.

Unfortunately, this debate about what it means for the Spirit to live in us has caused us to completely miss the point Paul is trying to make. No one is asking, “Why did Paul describe it like this?” Why speak about Christ living in us? Why say the Spirit lives in us? For Paul to say that Christ LIVES in us or DWELLS in us indicates that this is not an occasional choice. God is the rule, that is, he is living in us. God is not visiting us or vacationing with us. Our lives are controlled by God at all times, not every once in a while. Paul is describing a close relationship with God. Back in chapter 6 Paul told us that we are in Christ when we are baptized. Paul is telling us also that Christ is in us. We know we are not personally and literally dwelling in Christ, but are united with him and in a relationship with him. This is Paul’s picture: We are joined together. Christians are joined to God and God is joined to us. Christians are joined to Christ and Christ is joined to us. The Spirit is joined to us and we are joined to the Spirit.

Douglas Moo hits the point well in his commentary on Romans. “Paul’s language is ‘positional’: he is depicting the believer’s status in Christ, secured for him or her at conversion” (NICNT, 489-490). We have been granted the status of being in Christ. We are not “in sin” but “in the Spirit.” We are in Christ when we follow Christ and his teachings. We are in sin when we follow Satan and our desires. We are in the Spirit when we follow the scriptures revealed by the Spirit. We are in sin when we rejected the commands of the Spirit.

Further, Paul says that we are “in Christ Jesus” (8:1) and “in the Spirit” (8:9). This shows that Paul is not talking about us literally living inside Jesus or literally living inside the Holy Spirit. Paul is speaking positionally and relationally. We are joined with Christ. We are joined with the Spirit. We have a relationship with Christ. This is the idea Paul is presenting.

So let’s read verse 9 again and see how much easier Paul’s point becomes. You know you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit since the Spirit of God lives in you. You are in a relationship with God when you live according to the Spirit and set your mind on the things of the Spirit. Notice the rest of verse 9 makes the same point. “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” If you are not ruled by Christ and joined to Christ, then you do not belong to him. You do not have a relationship with Christ if you are not dead to yourself and ruled by the law of Christ. Notice that the word “have” also points to more than just a passing connection. You must have the Spirit of Christ. You must have a continuous connection to Christ. Without this connection, we are not Christians. We do not belong to Christ.

The Spirit of Life (8:10)

This is a difficult verse that has two different translations. The NASB and NIV read, “The spirit is alive because of righteousness.” Notice the lowercase “s” indicating that this is referring to our personal spirit. However, all the other translations read like the TNIV, “The Spirit gives life because of righteousness.” While the NASB and NIV translations are easier to interpret (that our bodies are dead because of sin but our spirits are alive in Christ), scholars strongly argue that the Greek word zoe never means “alive” but always means “life” (Schreiner, 415). Proof of this is the change made in the revision of the NIV in the TNIV. Notice the difference:

But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.  (Romans 8:10; NIV)

But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. (Romans 8:10; TNIV)

So we will go with the second reading because that is the appropriate meaning of the Greek word zoe. Notice that this causes the word “spirit” to be capitalized because we cannot say that our own spirits give life. The life must be coming from the Holy Spirit. This is something that Paul has already mentioned in Romans 8:2 where Paul refers to “the law of the Spirit of life.” So what does Paul mean regarding the Spirit giving life? What does this mean?

Spirit of Life and Ezekiel 37

Ezekiel prophesied of a time when the Spirit of the Lord would be placed within the people and they would live. In Ezekiel 37 we are seeing the vision of the valley of dry bones. It is a picture of the nation of Israel (37:11). The nation is pictured as dead and dry with no hope of life because of their sins (37:11). They are cut off from God. But God was going to put his Spirit (breath, same Hebrew word ruwach – see 37:14) in them. But God was cause his Spirit to enter the nation and they would live (37:5-6,14). The Spirit of life was a picture of resurrection. God would raise his nation back to life, though it was dead because of sins.

Go back to Romans 8:10-11 and notice that this is exactly what Paul teaches. The body is dead because of sins, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. We die because of our sins, but we are raised because of God’s righteousness. We are given life through the work of Jesus. Read verse 11 and see that resurrection is the picture. God gave this Spirit of life before and raised Jesus from the dead. When we give ourselves to the Spirit of life (join ourselves to God) then we will also be given life. The point is similar to Romans 6:7-11. Christ died and has been raised from the dead. So when we die to the world and live for God. Paul adds the picture of resurrection and the fulfillment of Ezekiel 37 here in Romans 8. We are dead in our sins but God is giving us the Spirit of life because of his own righteousness. Just as Jesus died and raised to life, so we also will be given life. God is restoring his people. That is why there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (8:1). We have been set free from the law of sin and death. We have been set free from our sins. We are given the promise of life, although our bodies are dead because of sin, because of God’s righteousness. This will lead into the next section that we will look at next time. Notice Romans 8:12 as a preview: We are not debtors to the flesh but to the Spirit of God.

Final Thoughts:

  1. Paul is not talking about the personal and literal living of the Holy Spirit in our bodies. The thought does not make sense of this text. The view causes confusion, not assurance.
  2. We do not belong to Christ if we are not governed by his law and are not submitting to his ways.
  3. If we belong to Christ then we have life through the Spirit, even though we are dead in our sins, because of God’s righteousness.