Life in the Spirit: The Spirit Who Gives Life

Sermon by David Strain on May 24

Romans 8:9-11

Would you please take your copy of the Scriptures in hand once again and turn with me this time to Romans chapter 8. We’re working our way through this great chapter on Sunday mornings together. We’ve begun to notice I think already the dominant motif throughout Romans 8 is the person and work of the Holy Spirit. And we’ve also seen that in verses 3 through 8 where we’ve been the last few weeks, Paul has introduced a basic contrast between two ways to be, two types of people who live in the world. He said there are those who are according to the flesh and those who are according to the Spirit. There’s no third category, no middle course to steer between these two. Either you’re in the Spirit and spiritually alive, therefore, or you are still in the flesh and therefore spiritually dead. That’s the basic binary, Paul says, that describes the whole human race. 

And so last time when we looked at verses 5 through 8 we were insisting on the great, urgent, pressing need to be born again, born from above, born of the Spirit. Authentic Christianity, we said, consists in Holy Spirit wrought new life. Not in mere morality, not in a set of abstract convictions, not even in membership in a local church, as important as that is. You must be born again. That was last time. This time, we’re going to focus on verses 9 through 11 where Paul elaborates on what it means to have the Holy Spirit come into our lives. And we can sum up the teaching of these three verses very simply in just three words. First in verse 9, Paul talks about residence. The Holy Spirit comes to dwell, to reside within us, and we’ll need to unpack that together in a few moments. Residence. Then verse 10, regeneration. That is, when the Spirit comes to dwell in us, He gives us new life in union with Jesus Christ. He regenerates us. Residence. Regeneration. And finally in verse 11, resurrection. The Spirit who resides in us, having regenerated us, will, God promises us, one day raise our bodies according to the pattern of Christ’s own glorious resurrection from the dead. 

So those are the three words. Do you see where we get them in the text? Residence – verse 9. Regeneration – verse 10. Resurrection – verse 11. Before we look at each of them in turn let’s pause again and pray and then we’ll read the Scriptures together. Let’s pray.

O Lord, please, we’re going to be speaking about the Holy Spirit. Send Him to us to take His own Word, the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, and with great power with demonstration of the Holy Spirit in power, do a work in our hearts now, we pray, by Your Word. Give new life to the spiritually dead, eyes to the spiritually blind, ears to the spiritually deaf. Strengthen and encourage weak and weary believers, and may the name of Christ be exalted. For His sake we pray, amen.

Romans 8. Let’s read from the first verse. This is the Word of God:

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 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, 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. 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. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 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. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

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. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 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.”

Amen, and we give thanks that God has spoken to us in His holy, inerrant Word.

About a year and a half ago we sold our home and we moved to a different neighborhood. We sold it to a lovely young family and recently I had cause to drive back through the old neighborhood and I thought I’d swing by the house, you know, for old time’s sake. And let me say, it was a big mistake. In my head, you see, that’s still my house! When you leave a place where you’ve lived for a while you tend to still have some emotional attachment to it. It’s hard to imagine anyone else living there. But when I drove by, they’d chopped down a tree in the front yard, they’d repainted the entire exterior of the house; the place looked completely different, virtually unrecognizable. “How dare they do that to my house!” That’s what I thought. But of course that’s not my house at all anymore, is it? There are new residents now and they’ve renovated the place and made it their own as they have every right to do, and actually, it looked really very good. It occurs to me that that’s very much what the apostle Paul says takes place in our lives, in our hearts, when we become Christians. The previous owner is expelled and the Holy Spirit comes to take up residence within us. And having come to dwell there, He renovates us through and through. 

Residence

Notice how Paul puts it in verse 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.” So here first of all is Paul’s insistence that to be a Christian at all requires that the Holy Spirit come to take up residence in your heart. That’s the first word that sums up Paul’s teaching here – residence. And if we’re going to catch Paul’s meaning, we mustn’t miss the change of personal pronoun. In verses 5 through 8 that we looked at last week, remember, Paul was speaking in the third person about “those who are according to the flesh” and “those who are according to the Spirit.” “Those who are in the flesh,” he said, “cannot please God.” Remember that? But now, having laid out his principle in the abstract, as it were, he turns to the Roman Christians to whom he’s been writing and he speaks to them much more concretely and specifically. He addresses them directly, do you see, in the second person. “You, however, you are not in the flesh. You are in the Spirit.” So he’s speaking to them not just as a Bible teacher but as their pastor. He wants to give to them assurance under God of the saving grace that is theirs in Jesus Christ.

And what is the evidence that he cites to assure them that they are in fact no longer living in the flesh, that is, under the rule and governance of the principle of sinful rebellion in our old natures? What’s the evidence they have in fact actually come to live in the Spirit under the rule and governance of the Holy Spirit? It is, he says, that “the Spirit of God dwells in you.” Now in my judgment, the word translated “if” there in the middle of verse 9, the first part of verse 9, “if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you,” is really better translated “since in fact,” or “given the fact that the Spirit of God dwells in you,” so that verse 9 might be better read, “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, since in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.” In other words, Paul isn’t questioning whether the Spirit of God resides in their lives so much as he is assuring them that He does in fact dwell within them.

Here’s the point. The way you know you’re living under the rule of the Spirit and not under the rule of the flesh, the way you know you’re not still unconverted, Paul says it is by the Spirit of God dwelling in your heart. And he’s going to go on, as we’ll see in a moment, to show us some of what to look for in the distinguishing marks of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. But for now, he merely insists that all Christians everywhere are Holy Spirit people. Right? All Christians everywhere are Holy Spirit people. So insistent is he on this point in fact that he says it again at verse 9, only negatively. Do you see that in verse 9? “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him.” 

From time to time, no doubt, you will have come across those who teach that after becoming a Christian there is another stage into which we are invited to enter beyond the new birth, usually called the “baptism” or the “fullness of the Spirit.” In their thinking, this experience is not universal and it’s not automatic; you have to seek it and prepare for it and attain to it. It’s supposed to be a kind of spiritual superhighway leading to power and effective ministry and victory over sin that is quite beyond the ordinary. And until we are able to tap into it, so we’re told, we’ll always putter along in the shallows of the Christian life, never knowing the fullness of blessing. Have you come across teaching like that?

I, as a teenager, I was led to faith in Christ by a Pentecostal friend, and that was very much his view. That’s what he believed. And in many ways it sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? After all, I want power. I want victory over sin. I want more immediate experience of the power and blessing of God in my life. Who doesn’t? Right? Sign me up! But here’s the problem. The apostle Paul flatly rejects any suggestion that the Christian life could ever be anything other than full of the Holy Spirit. “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him.” Without the Spirit of Christ there’s no union with Christ, there’s no new life in Christ, there’s no saving faith in Christ. There’s no power to live for Christ, there’s no Christianity! The gift of the Spirit dwelling in the heart is the universal possession of every single Christian, without exception. 

That was Jesus’ promise, you may remember, in John 14 verses 16 and 17. “I will ask the Father and He will give you another helper to be with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. You know Him for He dwells with you and will be in you.” This is the inheritance of every believer. Here’s your inheritance, your spiritual birthright if you’re a Christian. The Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of Truth – living, residing within you, dwelling in you forever. There are no Christians in whom the Spirit of Christ does not dwell. If you do not have the Spirit of Christ, you do not belong to Him. That’s what Paul says. 

And since the Scriptures know nothing of it, it really ought not to be a surprise to learn this idea of a two-stage Christianity with a second blessing, another tier of spiritual experience available for those who wholly surrender or who really believe or who let go and let God or whatever the alleged mechanism may be, this whole notion has disastrous pastoral consequences in our lives. Heterodoxy always results in heteropraxy. A warped teaching always leads to warped Christian living. Think about it. A two-stage Christianity implies there are the really spiritual ones who’ve had this experience and then there are the rest of us, languishing at a lower ebb, longing for it but not attaining to it. In my own case, I was told that if I hadn’t had the experience of the second blessing, it could only be because of unrepentant sin in my life or that there was some “stronghold of unbelief,” whatever that means, that continued to “block the blessing.” Whatever the cause, ultimately it was considered to be my fault. And as a brand new Christian, that kind of teaching plunged me, as it has plunged countless other eager young believers, into a sinkhole of despairing, destructive self-analysis and doubt. It has consigned them to a constant striving to qualify, to attain somehow to a mysterious standard that, in the end, fatally undermines the wonder of free grace that is the bedrock of the Christian Gospel. 

And Paul’s teaching here really would spare us all of that. “No, no,” he says, “to be a Christian means to have the Spirit of God dwelling in you.” And what a relief that is! It means, you see, you and I, we are not living the Christian life alone, bereft of resources. You may be weak, you may feel your weakness keenly, but the infinite, eternal and unchangeable third person of the blessed Trinity, the Holy Spirit Himself, the Lord and the giver of life, the same Spirit who rested upon and empowered and enabled the earthly ministry of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, this Spirit inhabits your heart. The heart of the newest baby believer as well as of the most mature and faithful Christian. He will not leave you to your own resources. He will not desert you to the liabilities of your nature. He is at work within us, praise God, for the glory of the name of Jesus Christ and for our everlasting good. That is our birthright, Paul is saying. If you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, this is what is most true of you. The deepest level of all, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus Christ inhabits your heart. That’s the first word that we need to be thinking about here. Residence. The Spirit resides within.

Regeneration 

But what does that mean? What does it involve and entail? What will the effects of such an extraordinary event as the Spirit coming to live in us really be? Well, the Bible says a great renovation takes place. New life breaks in. Regeneration happens. That’s the second word I want you to think about with me. First, residence. Now, regeneration. Look at verse 10. “But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” And right away I want you to notice something surprising in Paul’s language. If you read verse 10 as the continuation of verse 9, we expect him to say this – let’s back up and read from verse 9. “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, since in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” And here’s what we expect him to say next – “But if the Spirit of Christ dwells in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” That would be consistent. That would be nice and hold the whole thing together. But that’s not what he says. He says, “Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead the Spirit is life.” 

And that tells us something actually really very important. It tells us the way Christ is in us, the mode of Christ’s indwelling in our hearts, the manner of our union with Him – or to flip it round – the effect of the Holy Spirit coming to live within us is union with Jesus Christ. The way Christ dwells in us is by the Spirit dwelling within. If you back up for a moment and notice the language that Paul has used for the Spirit in verse 9, He is “the Spirit of God,” meaning God the Father, but He’s also “the Spirit of Christ,” God the Son. The Spirit is the Father’s Spirit and He is Christ’s Spirit. “He proceeds,” in the words of the Nicene Creed, “from the Father and from the Son.” There’s the closest possible union between the Spirit and the Father and the Son within the bonds of the blessed Trinity so that to have the Spirit is to have the Son and to have the Father. That’s what Jesus meant in that passage that we read earlier from John 14 where He gives us the promise of another helper, the coming of the Holy Spirit, and He then says immediately in John 14:18, “I will not leave you as orphans when the Helper comes. I will not leave you as orphans. I will come to you.” How will Jesus come to us? How will He not leave us as orphans? He will come to us by sending the Holy Spirit to us and in the Spirit, Christ Himself is ours.

And notice what difference this union with Christ by the indwelling Holy Spirit really makes, according to Paul. “Although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” That “the body is dead because of sin” simply means sin has been introduced into the realm of our embodied existence. Rather, sin has introduced into the realm of our bodied existence the unavoidable fact of death. Martyn Lloyd Jones once put it strikingly. He said, “The moment we enter into this world we begin to live and we also begin to die. Your first breath is one of the last you will ever take.” The principle of decay leading to death is in every one of us. Contrary to those who claim that to have the Holy Spirit ought to make us healthy and wealthy and happy all the time, Paul is incredibly realistic about the experience of being a Christian this side of the new creation when God makes everything new, with a body that gets old and gets sick and wears out, the body is death because of sin. Since Adam ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil that was forbidden to him, God told him, “In the day you eat of it, you shall surely die,” death has been the universal human experience. The body is death really since Adam’s sin, since sin became a reality in the world. 

But for Christians, Paul says, for Christians “the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” That is, another Adam has come who has not sinned as the first Adam did but who obeyed – the Lord Jesus Christ, the righteous one. And because of His righteousness, right into the middle of the world of death that Adam’s sin brought, the life of the world to come springs up into existence in our hearts, here and now ahead of time, as it were, so that we can say with the apostle Paul, “We do not lose heart.” Here’s how not to lose heart amidst social distancing and lockdown – remember that though outwardly we are fading away, inwardly we are being renewed, renovated, day by day. The Spirit who now dwells in us, is life. He’s life. He’s given us new life. He’s caused us to be born again. It’s regeneration. Your inner self is renewed, being renewed, day by day into the likeness, the moral resemblance of the Lord Jesus Christ.

How do I know if the Spirit really dwells in me? What’s the great mark, the distinguishing characteristic of the Spirit inhabiting my heart? It’s new life, you see. When that family bought our old home and they moved in, they changed it forever. They renovated it and now it looks quite different. That’s what the Spirit does when He comes to dwell within us. He renovates the heart. There are new appetites, new priorities, new loves, new longings. There are even new regrets. Christians, we long now for the smile of God and the glory of God and the things of God, the presence of God, the touch of God, the Word of God. But we also regret anything we find still in our hearts that displeases Him, that offends Him, that grieves Him. These are the marks, you know, of authentic Christianity. It’s not distinguished by merely religious words and works. It’s not demonstrated by church attendance or in going on a mission trip or serving on a committee. It’s not even revealed by profound religious experiences, soaring emotions. Much less is it seen only in good behavior. None of these are wrong as far as they go, you understand, but they are as often true of an unconverted person as they are true of a converted person. No, the great mark of authentic Christianity is the new life of Christ, wrought in you by the Holy Spirit Himself, so that you can now say, “Though outwardly I am fading away, I am being renewed day by day, from glory into glory, into the likeness of Christ by the Lord who is the Spirit.”

J.I. Packer somewhere says that “The mark of a true Christian is not a conversion experience, it is present convertedness.” That’s right. That’s really what Paul is saying. New life, right now, new life – new longings, new desires, a new hatred for sin, a new delight in God and His glory and His purpose and His Word and His people and His truth. New life. Are you really a Christian? Are you the real thing? Or is your Christianity superficial and external only? Has the Spirit worked new life in your heart? That’s the great question. Residence. Regeneration. Do you know anything of it? 

Resurrection

And then finally, resurrection. That’s the last word that sums up Paul’s teaching about the Holy Spirit in these three verses. Look at verse 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.” The new life that is implanted in the heart by the Spirit when you’re converted will one day overthrow death completely so that the Father who raised Christ by the Spirit and has united you to Christ by the same Spirit will one day raise your mortal body from the grave by that same Spirit as well. This is our great hope, you know. The Christian hope is not a sort of disembodied, incorporeal ghostly existence after death. That’s not the final destiny of the Christian. Our final destiny is resurrection. One day the last enemy, death itself, will be destroyed when the risen Christ comes in glory and then the bodies of believers will be raised imperishable to live forever in a new creation. The climatic work of the Holy Spirit in our lives will be an end to death and decay when our mortal bodies will put on immortality and we shall all be changed into the likeness of Christ’s glorious body. When we see Him, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

So look, here’s the full wonder of the gift God gives us in the Holy Spirit. Are you beginning to see it? Not only does He come to dwell in us, which is astonishing, but He renovates us, He makes us new people. And not only does He begin to renovate us, He will one day raise us. That is breathtaking, and it tells us nothing can defeat the Holy Spirit at work within you – not your sin, not your misunderstandings, not your weaknesses and your weariness, not a virus. Nothing. The purpose of God will be fulfilled, the Holy Spirit is invincible, having come to reside in you and renovate you, He will one day raise you. He that began a work will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. “Those whom He called, He justified; whom He justified, He also glorified.”

Ray Ortlund, in his great little book on Romans 8, tells us about an oncologist who was an elder in his church and the oncologist has a plaque hanging in his office entitled, “What Cancer Cannot Do,” that I think captures something of the glory of the promise in these verses. Here’s what it says. “Cancer is so limited. It cannot cripple love. It cannot shatter hope. It cannot corrode faith. It cannot destroy peace. It cannot kill friendship. It cannot suppress memories. It cannot silence courage. It cannot invade the soul. It cannot steal eternal life. It cannot conquer the Spirit” – capital “S.” Nothing can conquer the Spirit. If you’re a believer in Jesus today do you see what a hope you have? What power dwells within you? What fellowship with the triune God is open to you? What an inheritance is yours? God Himself, God the Holy Spirit, resides in you. He will reside there forever, regenerating you, renovating you. One day the renovation will be complete, and when those renovations are complete, your mortal bodies will be clothed incorruptible with splendor, raised in the likeness of Christ’s glorious body. 

That means, you know, despite your dark fears to the contrary, you are not helpless, you are not useless, you are not unable. You are not without defense against the devil, nor without strength to withstand sin. The Holy Spirit lives in you. The Lord and Giver of life lives in you. You may be fragile and sickly and weary and infirm. Some of you are battling chronic illness today. Some of you feel the weight of your years pressing down and you’re weary. Lift up your heads. Your trials are nearly over. One day, even your fragile, even your fragile frame, will be beautified and made strong in resurrection likeness to Christ. Until that day comes, the Holy Spirit will keep you. He will keep you. He will hold you fast. He will sustain and strengthen you. So press on. The race is nearly over. You can run till the finish line comes. Outwardly, you may well be fading away, but dear brother, dear sister, inwardly you are being renewed day by day.

And if you’re not a Christian today – and with this I’m finished – if you’re not a Christian, do you see what a bleak and dreary world you inhabit? How can you stand it a moment longer? Your heart is dead in sin, it is an empty, broken-down house without the Spirit of Christ to make it new. You have no power to live for God, nor any prospect of resurrection glory to look forward to. While you remain as you are, there is only death in sin for you here and death under the wrath and curse of God forever hereafter. So why, when there’s new life in the Spirit on offer, why in the world would you prefer to remain in such a condition when regeneration, when eventual resurrection comes to everyone who entrusts themselves to Jesus? Why would you continue instead to trust your own threadbare goodness? What’s the logic of your embrace of death – that’s what you’re doing – when life is available to you in Jesus Christ? 

In Ezekiel 33:11 we read these words, “As I live, declares the LORD God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” Do you hear God Himself pleading with you? “Turn back! Turn to Me! There’s life! I have life for you in Jesus! Why stay in this miserable, gray realm of death?” Trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and live.

Residence. We need the Spirit to break in. Regeneration. When He breaks in, He makes us live. He gives new life. He does a renovation project and one day, when it’s finished, there will be a glorious resurrection. Long for that day. Trust in Christ and that day is yours by God’s great guarantee. Let’s pray together.

Our Father, thank You for the Lord Jesus Christ who has broken death’s bonds in His own resurrection so that all who trust in Him, by the Holy Spirit, who raised Him from the dead, are given new life right here and now and guaranteed resurrection life hereafter. Grant to all Your people watching or listening the comfort to press on till they cross their finish lines, howsoever weary they may be right now, by the knowledge of these truths. And grant to any who are watching or listening, who are not believers, to find themselves wondering, “Why would I live any longer, a moment longer in this deathly, gray world, when there’s the multifaceted wonder of new life in Christ available to me?” Cause them now, even right now, to run in faith to Jesus, for we ask this in His precious name, amen.

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