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. Romans 8:11
What’s the point of being a Christian? What is this about? Why are we here today? The British preacher, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, nailed it:
The whole object of being a Christian is that you may know the love of Jesus Christ, his personal love to you, that he may tell you that he loves you, that he has given himself for you, that he has loved you with “an everlasting love.” He does this through the Holy Spirit.
That’s what the Christian life is about. With all his heart Christ gives himself to your heart. There’s a corny old hymn we will never sing that goes like this:
Loved with everlasting love, led by grace that love to know
Gracious Spirit from above, thou hast taught me it is so
O this full and perfect peace, O this transport all divine
In a love which cannot cease, I am his and he is mine.
Why become a Christian? To be loved like that. It’s the whole object. Many of us are experiencing it. We know what it’s like to be driving around town or reading the Bible or discussing the gospel with a friend or listening to great music when suddenly the heart is flooded with an awareness – it’s as if a Presence comes down – the heart becomes aware of the love of Christ, his personal love for me, for you. It isn’t a mind-game, because it doesn’t come with the telltale marks of the flesh. The flesh moves toward self-exaltation or toward self-hatred. But this visitation of love to our hearts humbles us and encourages us. That can’t be the flesh. It’s a gift from heaven through the Holy Spirit. The whole object of the Christian life is to know personally that the Spirit of Christ dwells in you (verse 9) and that you belong to him (verse 10). Everything else flows from there.
Not enough people understand that and experience it. It’s why Immanuel Church is here. It’s what we want for everyone. But it is a mystery. When I was studying at Aberdeen University, I walked every day past a plaque set into the wall in memory of Henry Scougal. He taught at Aberdeen 300 years ago. He wrote a little classic entitled The Life of God in the Soul of Man. Why did he write it? Because so many people in his time misunderstood the gospel, like today. So Scougal wrote this little book to say something else:
I cannot speak of religion without lamenting that, of the many who claim it, few understand it. Some people locate religion in the intellect. Others see it as model behavior. Still others find it in ecstatic experience. All these can look religious, but people do bad things in the name of such religion. True religion is deeper. It is Christ formed within us. It is the life of God in the soul of man.
What was Scougal saying? He was saying that Christianity is not us moving toward God but God moving toward us and living within us. It is the living Christ revealing himself to you, giving himself to you. What could be more wonderful? The Lord Jesus Christ loves you. And his whole object is to tell your heart all about it and never stop telling you, ever. That’s what our passage in Romans 8 is about. Let’s take it verse by verse.
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. —Romans 8:9
Isn’t that an odd thing to say? You are in the Spirit, if the Spirit is in you. What on earth does Paul mean? For us to be “in the Spirit” – and it’s a plural “you” here, it’s “Y’all” – is to be a new community together that only God could create. “Y’all, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit as the new emerging humanity, the future God is creating even now.” For us to be “in the Spirit” is to find ourselves in a new spiritual environment with a new destiny. If you’re a Christian believer, you used to be “in the flesh.” You lived your life within the limitations of the flesh – your own natural moral potential, your own intelligence and wisdom and good intentions, the you that was born you, which is “the flesh.” You were all you had – you and your unfree will. You could choose to be a Democrat or a Republican, and so forth. But your choices were limited to your choices. How could you choose what you didn’t want or even believe in? All you could choose was more of the you lying within your own reach and control. And here’s the problem with being there. Human nature is deeply broken. We’re all proof of that.
Here’s a picture of it. When Jani and I lived in Oregon back in the 80s, a big tree in the back yard began to lean over our neighbor’s house. We cut it down. One heavy snowfall and that tree could have crashed down onto our neighbor’s roof. When we cut it down, we discovered why that tree was tipping. It had died inside. It looked okay on the outside, but it was rotten at the center. That’s why it was weak. We’re like that. We’re weak way down deep. And it doesn’t take much pressure or stress for us to crash into someone else’s life. It’s more than bad choices; it’s a bad nature within. And God has the right to cut us down. But what did he do? The opposite. He filled us with new life by the Holy Spirit.
“You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.” It’s God’s relocation program. You don’t get yourself out of the flesh, because life in the flesh includes not being all that bothered by it. Only God can change you, and he’s doing it all over the world today. God the Holy Spirit is moving, pulling more people in, pressing them so close to his heart they are drawn in. Can you think of greater privilege and access than being “in the Spirit”?
You probably remember how God gave himself to you – maybe in a blinding flash, maybe slowly over time. But here’s the before-and-after picture. Before, you heard the gospel and you hung out with Christians and maybe you even prayed. But all the time, in your heart, you felt like an outsider. The gospel may have been beautiful to you. But it was a beautiful concept. Then something happened. Jesus made himself real to you. He made his love an experience for you. Your heart said, “This is what I’ve longed for all my life.” It was the Holy Spirit coming to dwell within you. You didn’t go and find God; he came and found you, and you were finally, wonderfully in.
We’re still sinners, and it runs deep. Let’s not be shocked when we sin. But here is how God loves sinners. He disarms us. He disarms our fears by forgiving us in advance: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). This is why we’re free to live in ongoing repentance. We’re in, never to be thrown out. We’re free to tell him everything: “I’ve never told anyone the whole story. I’ve told myself to get over it and move on. But I can’t get over it. I haven’t moved on. What do I do with this memory?” And he says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” We can tell the Friend of sinners everything and get it off our chests and tell him how sad we are and how sorry and how guilty, and he does not judge us because we are now under no condemnation. In fact, we are in the holy place, “in the Spirit.” How can it be? His own righteousness covering us.
Now we know what to do with what Paul says next: “. . . if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.” God being so gracious, we can have the courage to ask ourselves diagnostic questions, to find out if in fact the Spirit dwells in us. It isn’t a question of sinlessness. It isn’t a question of obeying enough. It’s a question of being a sinner loved by Jesus. The sure sign that the Holy Spirit dwells in you is your heart feeling so forgiven by Jesus that your pride is humbled into the dust, you bow down and surrender your life to him. That is the power of the Spirit in us. That’s an indicator that God’s grace has taken us out of the proud, defiant flesh and relocated us in the Holy Spirit. It’s a miracle. So it doesn’t help to compare one Christian against another. The thing to do is to compare a Christian with what that same Christian would be without Christ. That Christian might still be a jerk. Original sin is still in there. But every true Christian can say, “I’m not what I ought to be. I’m not what I’m going to be. But I’m not what I would have been. God the Holy Spirit is bringing into my heart the felt love of Christ, and I’m changing.” C. S. Lewis, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, wrote this:
It would be nice, and fairly nearly true, to say that “from that time forth Eustace was a different boy.” To be strictly accurate, he began to be a different boy. He had relapses. There were still many days when he could be very tiresome. But most of those I shall not notice. The cure had begun.
Has the cure begun in you? Do you see yourself as a sinner loved by the Savior? If not, you can say to God, “I need you. Please send the Holy Spirit to my heart with a real experience of the love of Jesus for me. I don’t care if people laugh at me. Please, let me in.” To be “in the Spirit” does not mean you’re on a constant spiritual high. It means that your past is forgiven and your future is redefined by the grace of Christ. You know in your heart in that he is yours and you are his. He is no longer an ideal to live up to; he is a living presence surrounding you, loving you, changing you. Without him, your past is a prediction of your future. Is that what you want? If you want a new you through Christ, you can have him. And you having him is better than you having you. Having him, you gain a new you by the power of the Holy Spirit.
But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. —Romans 8:10
The key words are “dead” and “life.” Your body is dead. So is mine. We’re all carrying the fatal disease of sin. We try to stay in shape. We get plastic surgery. But every heartbeat is one less. Therefore, we don’t access the best of life through the body. We’re being told, “If you’re not thin, if you’re not sexually active, if you’re not beautiful, if you’re not young, you’re not alive.” Is that true? If it were true, then all the thin, sexually active, beautiful, young people in this world would be on Cloud Nine. But they’re not. Why? Because real life doesn’t flow to us through the body but through the Spirit. God likes our bodies. Verse 11 is about to tell us that. But God gives real life through our hearts.
“The Spirit is life because of righteousness.” What does that mean? It means the life that is truly life – the Holy Spirit gives it to our hearts because of the righteousness of Christ. No one is more alive than a sinner whose conscience is set free by the finished work of Christ on the cross. If you want to hang out with a bunch of rowdy people who know how to have a great time of hilarious frivolity, it’s Christians. We don’t have to fake having fun. We feel loved. We feel forgiven. We feel included in the most wonderful thing in the universe. We’re alive, because we’ve given up trying to be so right and we’re happy about Christ being all the rightness we need. The Holy Spirit has made him real to us. That’s what Paul is saying: “The Spirit is life because of [Christ’s] righteousness.” Isn’t it great to be there?
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. —Romans 8:11
God loves all that you are. He gives new life to your heart now, and he’ll raise your body too. He isn’t squeamish. He isn’t embarrassed. As C. S. Lewis said, God must like matter; he made a lot of it. And he will redeem it, including your body. There is not one ounce of you that will end up in the trashbin of the universe – except your sins, which you want to leave behind anyway. All that God made in making you he will rejuvenate, and he will do this through the Holy Spirit who indwells you even now.
Do you see the Triune God here in this verse – Father, Son, Spirit? Do you see how elaborate Paul’s wording is? God really throws himself into your redemption. God the Father raised Jesus from the dead by the power of the Spirit. And God will do no less for you, if the Spirit dwells in you. All that God is does all that God can do for you. You’re going to be okay. A Christian oncologist I know has this statement framed on his office wall:
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 silence courage
It cannot invade the soul
It cannot steal eternal life
It cannot conquer the Spirit.
And it cannot even rob you of your body – not long-term. God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit love you so comprehensively, they’ve even provided for your body, the humblest part of you.
On that first Easter Sunday so long ago, we caught a glimpse through a real historical event in our world, a knowable event, a real human being who rose from the dead with new immortality surging out of him – we caught sight of the kind of human being we will all be someday because of the grace of Christ. No more medications, no more pain, no more surgeries, not even need for sleep, but finally our full capacities, full intensity, full tenderness, full alertness, full control, full enjoyment of everything worthy forever. In fact, God says, “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind” (Isaiah 65:17). So about five seconds into heaven, you and I will turn to each and say, “Uh, heart attack – what on earth was that? Oh well, it doesn’t matter. Here we go!” Everything we lose in this world, whether through war or a drunk driver or genetic disorder or just plain old age, God will restore it all through the Holy Spirit who already lives within us, never to leave. Therefore, if the Holy Spirit lives in your heart, your real crisis is past. You have nothing to fear, not even from death, because 2000 years ago Someone Else died the death you’ll never die, a death of condemnation in your place, when the Lord laid on him the iniquity of us all.
This is the love of God for sinners. Does your heart know it? Do you know that your sins went onto Christ as the cross? God wants you to give you his very best at the point of your deepest need. Will you receive Christ today?