Life in the Spirit

December 26, 2021 Speaker: Ben Janssen Series: Romans: Real Hope for the Righteousness of God

Scripture: Romans 8:1–8:11

1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

I have a burden this morning to help us grasp these verses, which are rather remarkable in what they proclaim and teach. No doubt these verses shed light on why it was that Paul could say he was not ashamed of the gospel. Paul had come to see the implications for life now after the Messiah had come and “condemned sin” in his own flesh. So here in Romans 8:1-11, and especially in verses 9-11, there is help for us today to not miss the implications for life on the other side of Christmas. To not miss the implication of what it means that Christ, the Messiah has come. The days after Christmas ought to be filled with even more wonder and joy and amazement than we could have had before Christmas. There are three things here we should know, that we should call to mind day by day to help us live in the reality that the Lord has come. We should know the age in which we live, the power with which we live it, and the Savior for whom we live.

Know the Age

First, we see in this text the necessity for Christians to know the age, that is, to know the time in which they now live here on the other side of Christmas. We Christians believe that the greatest transition of time in all of history took place in and around the life of Jesus of Nazareth. And it is crucial that we know this.

The Old Age of Death

The first four verse of chapter 8 emphasized the truth that there is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (v. 1). Having been united to the one in whom and by whom the condemning power of sin was itself condemned, Christians for 2000 years now have lived their lives free “from the law of sin and death” (v. 2). They now live in the freedom of “the law of the Spirit of life” (v. 2). These are completely opposite realms, two entirely different realities in which one might live.

Verses 5-8 described the old age. Enslaved to the law of sin and death, death is the only possible mindset (vv. 5-6). And this mindset put us at odds with God, hostile to him, unable and unwilling to submit to his law, to his ways (v. 7), incapable of pleasing him at all (v. 8). This is life outside the kingdom of God, and before the first Christmas, everyone in history lived in that reality.

That’s not to say that there were no saints in the old age. But all of them lived in an era that was like the days before Israel’s exodus from Egypt. These saints “groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help” (Exod 2:23). It’s the groan that Paul described in the previous chapter in Romans: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom 7:24). These saints trusted in God’s faithfulness, they believed a day of deliverance was coming. The prophets “searched and inquired carefully” about what life would be like on the other side of this salvation (1 Pet 1:10-11). But it was a mystery to them.

The New Age Dawns

The strong adversative conjunction in verse 9 (translated “however” in the ESV) is meant to encourage and inspire the Christian. “But you are not in the flesh!” This statement is a relief to the one who knows what Paul was talking about in verse 5-8. It’s good news for the one who has felt the frustration of feeling completely helpless against the power of sin and death. Paul does not exhort people to stop being in the flesh; such an idea would be as futile as telling a leopard to change his spots. Rather, Paul is wanting us to see the implication here for us who are united to Christ, who are no longer under any condemnation from sin. If you are a Christian—that is, if you are one who trusts in Jesus Christ, then you must realize this: you are a new creation in Christ. The old way of the flesh has passed away for you. And the new way, the new era, the promised new age, has come.

What is this new way? It is the way of the Spirit. “You, however, are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit.” The “Spirit” here is the Holy Spirit. So what does it mean to be “in the Holy Spirit”? The next phrase in verse 1 sheds some light. Paul says you are “in the Spirit” if in fact the Holy Spirit of God dwells in you. So to be in the Spirit is for the Spirit to be in you, to live in you, to take up residence within you.

Christians come up with all sorts of strange ideas about what it means to be possessed by the Holy Spirit. I don’t mean to cast suspicion on all the different experiences we sometimes attribute to the Holy Spirit; but I do wish to help us think about what this must mean in light of the biblical story.

The Old Testament talks about a visible manifestation of God’s presence among his people, usually described as a cloud (Exod 13:21; 16:10; 19:9; 34:5; 40:34), what Jewish rabbis would eventually call the Shekinah. The word Shekinah is Hebrew for “that which dwells.”[1] The Shekinah was the evidence that God has taken up residence among his people. God commanded that a sanctuary be built so he could “dwell in their midst” (Exod 25:8). The tabernacle, and later the temple, was the place where God’s glory was seen. It was heaven on earth, the place where God and man would meet.

But disaster came to Israel when the glory of God departed the temple shortly before Israel’s exile to Babylon and the temple itself was destroyed (Ezek 10). Even after returning from exile, Israel lacked the Shekinah in her rebuilt temple. That is why in the first century the great hope and expectation was that God would soon deliver Israel from the rule of the Roman empire and take up residence in his temple again.

This is what Paul is talking about. This is what he says has come pass. To be “in the Spirit” means to be in the situation or condition in which God is dwelling among his people.[2] Paul says if you are a Christian, you are now living in the fulfillment of that expectation. Why, then, does he speak, not only of Christians being “in the Spirit” but also of the Holy Spirit being in us? Because where the Holy Spirit dwells is where we see God’s temple. And this is the shocking reality of the new era that has dawned. Where is God’s temple? “Do you not know,” Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:15, “that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”

The Mingling of the Ages

So, to no longer be “in the flesh” but rather “in the Spirit” is more about the time into which we have now come than it is about some mental or psychological state we might try to get ourselves into. You are in the Spirit, Paul says, not “if you act this way or that,” but “if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.” If God’s Spirit is dwelling in his sanctuary, and that sanctuary is, shockingly, the people of God themselves, their very bodies, then we find ourselves living in the future. The promised and anticipated age to come has already dawned upon us. The apostles of Jesus clearly believed that this was the case. On the day of Pentecost, you’ll recall form Acts 2, the speaking of “the mighty works of God” (v. 11) in the language of people “from every nation under heaven” (v. 5) was the sign that God’s Spirit had returned and filled his temple. It was, Peter says, the fulfillment of exactly what God had said would happen according to the OT prophet, Joel (vv. 16-21). The “last days” had now come, and the evidence that this was the case was the very real presence and power of the Holy Spirit dwelling one again in his temple.

Of course, not every human being on earth comprises the temple in which God himself now dwells by his Spirit. “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him,” Paul says. This statement does at least two things. It rejects the possibility that anyone would be able to claim to be counted among God’s people but to be still enslaved to the prevailing power of sin. As we’ve seen, the realm of the Spirit is the realm in which sin has been condemned, and the mindset is one of submission to God and his ways rather than the rebellious ways of sin. If you claim to be a Christian, you cannot rightly claim to be defenseless against the power of sin because to be a Christian means you now live with the prevailing power of God’s Spirit. Second, it teaches us that we live in the time in which the old and new eras are mingled. As Christians, we live in the midst of fallen mortal world with a redeemed, immortal life. Not everyone is “in the Spirit” rather than “in the flesh,” so the world we see is at the same time passing away and also becoming new. And this explains the strange experience Christians have in this world, the experience described in the next verse.

Know the Power

What verse 9 is meant to do is encourage; it is not meant to cast doubt on the legitimacy of one’s claim to be a Christian. We don’t go around doing tests to detect the presence or absence of the Holy Spirit in a person, though of course a person ought to examine themselves to see whether they are in the faith (2 Cor 13:5). At the same time, if this is all true, if we who are Christians live in a new age, then we should begin to see the difference in the lives of Christians over against non-Christians. The difference should begin to be as clear as the distinction between heaven and hell. And the difference will be made clear the more we Christians know the power with which we now live.

The Power of Christ Within

So here we go. “If Christ is in you…” Then what? What will this look like?

But wait a minute. What does it mean for Christ to be “in” us? To belong to Christ means one also has the Spirit Christ has sent, and that is what it means for Christ himself to be “in” a person.

We are familiar with the important doctrine of the believers’ union with Christ, the idea that you and I are “in Christ,” but Christ “in us” is not quite the same idea. For Christ to be in us means not so much status as real, tangible power.[3] Christians possess the power of the Messiah himself because they are the very sanctuary in which God’s own Holy Spirit now dwells, as was promised would come to pass in the last days.

The Body Must Die

This is quite the promise, but Paul is more specific about what this means. What should we expect if we Christians possess the very power of Christ himself? Now just think of that! Tease it out a little bit. To possess the power of Christ must mean something quite extraordinary.

But the first thing Paul says is a concessive statement. “Although the body is dead because of sin.” In other words, one thing our present possession of the power of Christ does not mean is that we will somehow not suffer or die. Such is the lie of the so-called “prosperity” gospel, and its lie is exposed right here in Romans 8:10 as well as in everyday Christian experience. Christians are not promised a sparing from the woes of life.

And the reason is simple: “the body is dead because of sin.” The reason we Christians are not immune from pain and suffering, from growing old and dying, is because we are sinners.[4] The wages of sin is death, God says, and he is serious about it. Our mortality is an indication that we are guilty. If any of us who are Christians were to be able now to avoid death altogether, this would not be proof of God’s power in us but rather proof that God has not kept his word. It would be proof that God is unjust, that he is unrighteous. Looking at it the other way, death, as a consequence of sin, is proof that God is not unjust, that God does not turn a blind-eye to sin, that God will see that sin is punished.

This does not negate the truth of Romans 8:1. “No condemnation” for Christians does not mean we always win in our trials, that we are always cured of our bodily ailments, or that we are not necessarily trusting God if we seek medical intervention for our illnesses or save money for retirement. I know you know that, but as a pastor I’ve seen far too many Christians stumble when things go wrong. As a fellow Christian, I’ve felt the same temptation.

The Spirit Makes Alive

But we must not dwell too long on this point, for it is not the main point of the sentence at all. The concessive language is meant to heighten the greater point that follows. This is what it does mean to no longer be under the condemnation of sin and the judgement of God. Yes, the bad news is bad, but the good news in infinitely better: “although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.”

“The Spirit” is, of course, the Holy Spirit who even now dwells in every single Christian. The consolation is not, “although your body will die, your spirit—that immaterial part of you—will live forever, so take heart!” That is not at all what Paul is saying here or anywhere else. We must get this straight to understand Paul’s gospel. The Spirit dwells within us, making our bodies God’s very temple. The body is not a shell in which the “real you” resides. The Bible does not dichotomize the human being like this. Our bodies are precisely the “real you” that Christ gave his life to redeem.

So the point here is to say, “Yes, your body will die, because of sin, but… But!” Don’t you know that the Holy Spirit has taken up residence in your body? Don’t you know what that means? It means that it is life, not death which is our ultimate destiny. It is the promise that even an Old Testament saint like Job could hope for, that “in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:26). It is the reason Abraham was willing to sacrifice his own son, considering that “God was able even to raise him from the dead” (Heb 11:19).

Because Sin has been condemned
The Holy Spirit resides within;
So though the body will surely die,
The power of Christ must vivify.

But how can this be so? If the body dying proves that God is just, would not the body coming back to life, being raised from the dead, then nullify that justice? No, it does not, but only because of the gospel. The presence of the Holy Spirit dwelling now within us all means life, verse 10 says, “because of righteousness.” Righteousness is Paul’s way of speaking, first and foremost, of God’s own righteousness, God’s own vindication, the proof that God is himself just. And the evidence for this justification is the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah.

Remember that the justification of God comes into question because God has promised to judge sin but also to save sinners through his chosen family. The takeover of Israel by sin creates a massive dilemma fore the justice of God, a dilemma that no one could see a solution for until Jesus was plainly revealed to be the promised Messiah, the one in whom God has now condemned sin. Because sin has been condemned, God’s Spirit can now reside among God’s people who are reconstituted around Jesus the Messiah. Here we see the true Israel, the true people of God, comprised now of Jew and Gentile alike. And so, because of the righteousness of God, the presence of the Spirit within us can mean only one thing: life. Even though the body dies, yet it will live.

Know the Savior

Lest there be any doubt about what verse 10 is talking about, we find in verse 11 the explicit promise that our bodies are guaranteed to be resurrected from the dead just as Jesus was raised on Easter morning. And this future hope, guaranteed by the Spirit now within, has massive implications for how we live our lives in the present. Not only must we know the age in which we live and power with which we live it, but we must also know the Savior for whom we must live, now and forever.

The Dead Are Now Alive

I wish we Christians could always see ourselves with the confidence Paul was able to see himself and other believers. Paul, the diligent Jew he was, knew that the promise of Ezekiel 37 was that God’s own Holy Spirit would one day give life to dry, dead bones. Israel, God’s chosen people, would live again. Theirs would literally be a life from the dead, a resurrection that would happen upon belief in Messiah.[5] This would surely come at the end of the age, and the Jewish hope was to live to see the day.

The strange events that followed the Roman crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth did not cause Paul to lose his faith in the Jewish hope but to see instead that it had now been fulfilled. The great promise had come to pass. Jesus had been raised from the dead. This was a shock to Paul as it was to Jesus’s own disciples. No one expected a single resurrection, separated from the rest of the saints. What could this mean? Paul’s task was not to carve out a new religion but to reinterpret the Jewish scriptures in light of Christ’s death and resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus meant that the entire storyline of the Bible would need to be reconstituted around the person and work of Jesus as the promised Messiah of Israel.

The World Needs the Resurrection of Christ

Now why should you and I and other non-Jews care about the Jewish religion? Because the Jewish hope is that through Israel salvation would come to the world, to the entire cosmos. Why should we believe it? Because Jesus was raised from the dead. This, then, is the hope of the world. This is good news for everyone. What the world needs most of all is the good news of the resurrection of Jesus.

Consider this: Given the enormous devastation we see all around us, what else would such a global, cosmic salvation look like if not described in terms like resurrection from the dead, the reversal of all death and decay? What else could you hope in to see the world progress? Is the world getting better or worse? How can you possibly know?

Now consider again verse 11. “But if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you,” then what? What would that mean? It means that the same one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to our mortal bodies through his Spirit who lives, right now, in you. The resurrection of Jesus is mentioned twice in verse 11, first referring to the historical event—it was the human being Jesus of Nazareth who was raised. The second refers to the implication of the historical event—this one who was raised is the Christ, the chosen representative of his people, so what is true of him is true of all whom he represents.[6] Because Jesus was raised, and because he is the Christ, we who are united to him will rise as well.

Transformation in Christ

So what now? What difference should all this make, if it is true? We have resurrection to look forward to, yes. And this is a powerful source of comfort especially at the moment of death, in the funeral home, at the gravesite.

But it is more than that. These verses are the answer to the cry of Romans 7:24, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” The answer given there was that God would deliver through Jesus the Messiah. But now we see more detail. It will come in resurrection power, a power that is already present within us who are joined to Christ. And the presence of God’s Spirit within us makes a difference not just in how we might feel, but in how we actually live.[7]

Yes, everything gets transformed in Jesus. The old way of the flesh is death, hostility, rebellion, and an offense to the God of the universe. But in Jesus there is life, peace, joyful submission, and life that is pleasing to our Maker and Redeemer.

This transformed life is only found in Jesus. So the duty of every Christian is not to measure up to God’s standards however we might understand them but to know the Christ, crucified and risen for us all.

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[1] W. A. Vangemeren, “Shekinah,” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 4 vols., revised ed., ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1979), 4:468.

[2] N. T. Wright, “The Letter to the Romans,” in Acts, Introduction to Epistolary Literature, Romans, 1 Corinthians, The New Interpreter’s Bible 10 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 583.

[3] Ibid., 584.

[4] C. E. B. Cranfield, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, 2 vols., The International Critical Commentary, eds. J. A. Emerton, C. E. B. Cranfield, and G. N. Stanton (New York: T&T Clark International, 2003), 1:389.

[5] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, vol. 6 in Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Moisés Silva (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998), 415.

[6] Wright, “Letter to the Romans,” 585.

[7] Ibid., 589.

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