Romans 8:9&10 “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.”
Every Christian is a supernatural being. He is not just someone who has faith, or is a follower of Jesus Christ, or is a morally upright person. He is someone with a special relationship to the third person of the Godhead, to the Holy Spirit. Today we are going to consider some aspects of this special relationship, of the believer and the Holy Spirit. What I am going to say is true of every single Christian without exception. It is certainly true of the most mature and holy believers in the world, but it is just as true for the rawest recruits in Christ’s army – for the newest baby Christian just a week old. It is true for heroic pioneer missionaries and also for backsliding believers. Every one of them without exception enjoys a privileged relationship with God the Holy Spirit.
- THE SPIRIT LIVES IN US.
That’s what Paul claims (v.9). He is writing to the entire congregation in Rome, not to a favoured few in the church, not only to men and women who know the special indwelling because they have wrestled and become particularly holy and have made great sacrifice, or have agonized for this privilege. No. ‘You’ he says, addressing every single professing Christian in the church in Rome. “The Spirit lives in you.” Now it is possible, I admit, to have a mere share of the Spirit rather than be the inhabitation of the Spirit. That is true isn’t it? A boy in school has an apple and you’d like a taste. “I’ll give you a share,” he says and so he takes out his penknife and he cuts off a little piece and he gives it to you. It is the real apple that you taste, but just a little bit. . . just a taste. So people can go to a meeting and there they can receive a share of the Spirit of God, and that share provides them with a taste of Christianity, but that’s all. The Spirit himself had not come to live and abide in them. I am thinking of some of those first century Jews who initially heard the gospel of Jesus the Messiah and were persuaded that the Nazarene was the Son of God and began to follow him. Yes, but when, through persecution, the going got tough those Jews also got going – out of the fellowship and back into Judaism. “We were wrong,” they tell their Jewish unbelieving families, “You were right. He was a blasphemer and a crook. He deserved to die.” They were crucifying him all over again. The apostle tells us what happened to them in Hebrews chapter six, that they’d received some enlightenment, and they had a taste of the heavenly gift, and they had shared in the Holy Spirit and they’d tasted the goodness of the word of God (Hebrews 6:4&5). That was all. It never developed or matured or grew to anything more than that, some light, a taste, a mere ‘sharing’ in the faith and in the Spirit.
But to become a true Christian the Holy Spirit himself comes, not a share of him, not a part of him, but he comes to live in us. The third person of the Godhead; the inspirer of the prophets; the overshadower of Mary so that she conceived the Son of God; the one who raised Jesus from the dead; the one who filled all the disciples at Pentecost – he also comes and lives in a little Christian boy. That is what the Bible teaches, and that is what we must believe. It is incredible. Our hearts are deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, but it is into our hearts that God the Spirit comes, right there. The one who is always in heaven is also in our hearts and lives. I have used this illustration before of your drains being blocked and clogged and the toilets not working and stinking. You wouldn’t think of calling Buckingham Palace and asking the Queen, and Prince Philip, and Prince Charles, and Prince William, and Prince Harry and their families to come with their rods and rod your sewer pipes and clear you drains. That is necessary work, but they cannot get themselves dirty with your sewerage. There are fine workmen who do this day by day, and they wear the right clothes and carry plenty of disinfectant and they are prepared for the smells and unpleasant sights I am saying that God does not send a third class angel to guard us, but into our hearts comes the Holy Spirit. What he find there is no surprise to him. The Holy Spirit knows just how foul we are, that every imagination of the thoughts of our hearts is only evil continually, and yet that is where God the Spirit comes to settle and live for ever, in the foul and stinking cesspit of our hearts. He comes to take up his residence there. He’s not repulsed by what he knows is there. He does not say to the Lord Jesus when he is being sent to make alive a dead sinner, “I’ll do anything for you, but don’t send me into that man’s heart.” No! He enters the heart of the very chief of sinners, the worst man ever. He comes to purify the heart and sanctify the whole of our lives. Our bodies become the temples of the Holy Spirit. That is the first great privilege of being a Christian that the Spirit truly lives in us.
- CHRIST LIVES IN US.
That is also what Paul says (v.10). Let me make a brief point here, that the indwelling of the Spirit in us and the indwelling of Christ in us are to the same effect, but there is no blurring of the distinction between the Son of God and the Holy Spirit. They are different persons of the Godhead, and they have different operations. It was not the Spirit of God who became incarnate. The Spirit of God was not conceived by the virgin Mary. He is not the person of the Godhead who suffered crucifixion and bore our condemnation in his own body. That was Christ alone. And only the Spirit is sent by the Father and also by the Son to give spiritual life to favoured sinners, to grant them a new birth. God the Father was not the one who is sent; it is the Spirit alone who is sent. But nevertheless there is a complete intimacy in the relationship that exists between Christ and the Holy Spirit. You cannot separate their work. They are totally united in what they do. We must remember that the Spirit has learned so much from Jesus. When Jesus became incarnate the Spirit became imprinted with the character of Christ. All that Jesus learned through becoming a man and being tried and tempted, all that knowledge and experience he fed into the Holy Spirit. The Spirit has gained in understanding everything that Jesus learned of pain and loneliness and human joys and emotions. The Spirit has become absorbed into Christ and assimilated by him, so he is called by Paul in our text, “the Spirit of Christ.” The messianic Spirit has been actually shaped by the Son of God so that now he is not only the Holy Spirit, he is also the Spirit of Christ while remaining a distinct person.
But Christ himself is also in us. You remember his famous words of Revelation 3:20 “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” Think of the joy in the house of Mary, Martha and Lazarus when their beloved friend Jesus knocked on the door of their home and they opened the door and cried, “Come in! Come in! How delighted we are to see you,” and they made him welcome and prepared supper. What excitement! What a happy home to sit and eat with the Lord Jesus, to listen to what he had to say, to ask him questions and hear God the Son speaking to them. We have that privilege every day. Jesus Christ has come into our hearts and he accompanies us everywhere. There is no need for us to unlock the doors of this church each day in order for you to come into this building to speak to Jesus. You have illimitable access to an indwelling Lord anywhere and everywhere. He also is the God who lives in you.
- YOU BELONG TO CHRIST.
That is what he says in verse nine. He has taken up ownership of you. You think that it must be great to own something, a mansion, or a large farm. But with ownership goes considerable responsibility. Christ has taken you on board. He has taken over the responsibility of looking after you and changing. That is employed in the ownership of Christ. It is the familiar picture to them of the slave mart. One by one the slaves are put up on the block, their qualities are described, they are rudely examined, and then the bidding starts and someone is prepared to pay the highest price. The slaves are purchased and gain a new owner. They now belong to someone new – just like Joseph in Egypt was bought by Potiphar, so we have been bought – every single Christian – by the sufferings of Jesus Christ. I am thinking of those words of Paul to the Corinthians; “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body” (I Cors. 6:19&20). The slave has few rights of his own, only those meagre privileges that a kind master might give him. He has to ask his permission for everything. “Can I have a few hours rest? Can I marry? Can I have a new cloak?” He is not his own to act as he sees fit because he’s not his own master. A man has paid good money for him and has invested in him; he provides a bed for him, and a room and food each day, and in return he has to serve his master.
It is the same with us. We honour God with our bodies because Christ has redeemed our minds and hands and limbs and desires from the lordship of sin and he has done so at great cost. We once served another master. We served unbelief and the lusts of the flesh and of the mind. Sin told us to do what sin wanted us to do and we did it. Then Christ bought us at such a price; he redeemed us from that wretched slavery. And we sang, “Now I belong to Jesus; Jesus belongs to me, not for the years of time alone, but for eternity.” I am so happy to belong to him.
If a slave in the Old Testament was offered his freedom he might weep and say, “I don’t ever want to leave my dear master. I will willingly stay here as his servant for ever.” Then his master might agree to that and then he would go through this legal procedure of making him his slave for life. He would stand the servant up against his doorpost and hold his ear against the post and with an awl pierce the earlobe and attach the awl to the door through the ear for a moment. That action was a symbol that the slave belonged in perpetuity to this master.
The great privilege of the Christian is that he belongs for ever to his Lord, Jesus Christ. That means protection. Nothing is going to separate us from his love. He will be our good Shepherd and he will guard us from all the wolves that would destroy us. He will use his mighty power to keep us. That also means provision. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside the still waters. He will supply all my needs according to his riches in glory. That also means that when death comes he will walk with me through the valley of the shadow of death. My master will never let me out of his sight for a moment.
- THE SPIRIT CONTROLS YOU.
That is what Paul says in the ninth verse. You own a rottweiler or a pit bull terrier. One thing that is absolutely essential for the owner of such a dog, that it must be completely under his control. It obeys your commands always and totally; you have it on a leash, it is muzzled. A little blond girl aged three skips by and she is totally safe around such a dog because it is controlled. A nuclear power station has to be under control. An army has to be under control. Dangerous drugs have to be controlled. Criminals have to be controlled. What is all the religious zeal in the world if it is not under the control of God? The world is full of evil religious zeal. Religions are mankind’s worst crimes. The threats that come from adherents of one particular religion are a most fearful factor as we consider the future. There are religious people who believe exactly what those fanatics believed who destroyed the Twin Towers. They would like to build a so-called ‘dirty bomb’ and blow up some of the great cities of the world and they would do that in the name of their religion. They think like that because they are not being controlled by the Spirit of the God of love. We believe that they are under the control of Satan to even think of doing such things. There is no greater question to settle than to determine who is in control of your life?
The Christian is not self-controlled; he is Spirit-controlled. There were seven churches in Asia Minor (what is Turkey today) and there were free spirits at work in almost all of those congregations. They were threatening to get out of control. So the Lord speaks to them. He shows that he is controlling them. For example he says to the congregation in Ephesus, “I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first” (Rev. 2:4&5). Then he says, “He who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 2:7). The Spirit controls them through the word of Christ spoken to them. Then again the Lord says to the congregation in Smyrna, “Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer” (Rev. 2:10). Fear can make us cowards. Fear made Peter deny the Lord Jesus with swearing. Then he says to that congregation, “He who has an ear to hear, let him hear with the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 2:11). Then he speaks to the congregation in Pergamum, and there are some there who are starting to listen to false teaching. They are drifting away from being under the control of the Spirit, and so he warns them, “You have people there who hold to the teaching of Balaam who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin” (Rev.2:14). He is seeking to pull them back to the truth, and he adds again, “He who has an ear let him hear w
hat the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 2:17). So on we could go through most of the seven churches as he seeks to gain control of all his people and bring them under the church-management of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit has to gain complete control of every Christian. He does this by the word which is the sword of the Spirit You remember that famous proof text for the inspiration of Scripture? 2 Timothy 3:16 and 17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The God-breathed Scripture is useful for controlling us and it does so in four ways, it controls by teaching us, by rebuking us, by correcting us and by training us in righteousness. So you have to sit under the most helpful ministry each Sunday where you can more sweetly and wisely be controlled by God the Holy Spirit. That is absolutely essential.
- THE SPIRIT REMINDS YOU THAT YOUR BODY IS DEAD BECAUSE OF SIN.
Now understand that Paul is not saying here that we died in Christ on Calvary. That is true, but that is not what he means in our text. He is not saying that your old man, what you used to be as an unregenerate unbeliever, has been put to death with Christ. That is a wonderful truth, but that is not the truth that is taught here. What Paul is talking about here is our natural body, brain, lungs, heart, stomach, limbs and our physical dying. He is talking of the dissolution that will take place when body and soul are separated, and he chooses to speak of our certain dying in this very vivid way. He could have said it in many different ways, “You body is going to die; there is no escape from that. Your body is under sentence of death. You are a dying man. Your body is the prey of death. It tends to disease, and decay. It is appointed unto you to die; sooner or later, placed in its coffin it will be buried. That will be its destination to mingle there with its kindred dust.” He could have said it in any of those ways, but he makes it very vivid and certain and almost frightening in this striking phrase; “Your body is dead.” This body is not going to escape death. It’s dead. Your body is dead. Your body is dead. Your body is dead, and it is dead because of sin. You’re even now paying the wages of sin. Death has passed on all men for all have sinned, so you’re a dead man in God’s sight. That is God’s law, and the work of Christ on the cross and his resurrection on the third day has not repealed that law for any believer. One thing is as true for the Christian as the non-Christian that we will all leave this world by the same dismal process of disintegration.
Think of it. I’ve been pointing out to you today the great blessings of our relationship with God the Holy Spirit as Christians, that the Spirit lives in us; Christ lives in us; we are partakers of the divine nature; we belong to Christ; the Spirit controls us. All that is true, but that does not exempt us from the battle ahead, the last conflict and the victory of our last enemy, death. Some day, much sooner than I think, I am to confront the great reaper with his scythe and black cloak. And death will prevail over me and I shall die. I am going to experience the separation of my body and soul at death. That is the one unavoidable certainty I know about my future, and there is no escape from that whatsoever. The most Godlike person in this congregation or even in the world today, the holiest and most blameless man alive, is a dead man because of sin. The Spirit reminds us from time to time of this truth, and he has gathered us here today around the Scripture once again in order to remind us of this truth. Now my speaking about it will not result in bringing death one minute nearer to you, but it must cause you to reflect on what you never want to think about – except in a jokey, nervous way – that we are a week nearer to our deaths since we last met on a Sunday. How does the man in the street respond to this subject of death?
i] By defiant rejection of the fact. He refuses to consider it, and if he hears a message on it he will tell the preacher what a depressing sermon that was. He will not consider it at all.
ii] By wishful thinking. That is the escape from reality of a lot of people. They know in theory that everybody is going to die, but secretly they are dreaming that science will make a break-through by the time they reach 70 and they’ll escape death. They will be the first generation to beat the rap. Somehow death won’t happen to them. Young people, of course, for rather obvious reasons, always assume that it won’t happen to them, despite the fact that sometimes their friends are killed in car accidents, or they commit suicide and they are confronted with the awesomeness of death. Then they quickly get over it and assume, “Well, it was too bad for them, they were really nice people, but it won’t happen to me.” That’s wishful thinking. The reality is that it it’s going to happen to them, and to you and to me. That is something that we have to face: the unavoidableness of death.
iii] Resigned fatalism. That is another way that people approach death. This is very common in wartime. As a boy growing up in wartime Wales I remember the common saying was, “if a bomb has your name on it, you can’t outrun it.” In the early days of the war, as soon as the sirens would sound, our family would get out of bed and go down into the bomb shelter. But as time went on, clearly the bomb didn’t have their names on it, so why worry about it – and if it did you couldn’t outrun it – so people stopped going down into the bomb shelters. They grew tomatoes in them, and kept rabbits and their garden tools there. Our gang, the boys in our class in Junior School, met in David England’s cathedral of a bomb shelter. Then as the bombs fell people even went to their bedroom windows and they watched the fireworks. Soldiers in Afghanistan hide themselves in such fatalism; “If I’m going to die then I can’t avoid it.” There is no ‘if’ about it. All of you will die sooner than you desire. Are you ready for it?
iv] Uncontrolled rage. That is another approach to death. The feeling is common that death shouldn’t intrude into their families. This absolutely should not happen to them. They are beside themselves with anger, and not infrequently people will actually go out of this life into death with the sound of cursing on their lips. Dylan Thomas famously advised his dying father to “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
I submit to you that if we are simply approaching death by defiant rejection, or wishful thinking, or resigned fatalism, or uncontrolled rage, we’re not handling death properly. Only Christians have a message of hope in the face of death. Paul does not end on this grim note. Yes the body is dead because of sin, but listen, “yet your spirit is alive, because of righteousness” (v.10).
- THE SPIRIT REMINDS YOU THAT HE IS LIFE, BECAUSE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.
I am sorry to see the interpretation that the N.I.V. imposes on verse ten. It writes “your spirit” without the capital S. ‘Your spirit’? There is no personal pronoun in the Greek whatsoever, nor in any manuscript at all. The Greek says simply ‘the spirit,’ to pneuma, and so the translation should reflect the original not the interpretation of the translators. Whenever the Spirit is mentioned in the surrounding verses (vv. 9, 10 & 11) the reference is always to God the Holy Spirit. What reason can there be for one change here? The reference to the Holy Spirit is completely in keeping with Paul’s thinking in this section. He has been dealing with the fact that we are under sentence of death, that the human body is going to die and in the next verse notice he will deal with the resurrection of the body. So this reference to the Spirit as the Spirit of God who dwells in believers as life is in perfect harmony with this passage! He is life giving and life sustaining. Paul has just said that the body is dead because of sin, and that means our bodies and our spirits will be torn apart in death. We have no hope of deliverance from that death in and through our own human spirits. They are as powerless to resist death as our bodies are, but the Holy Spirit is irresistible life! Life giving forces are going to home in on our dust! The God who breathed into the dust he had shaped into Adam making him a living creature will make our dust live! The Spirit of holiness that raised Jesus from the dead shall also raise our mortal bodies.
I have told you that Christ has fed into the Holy Spirit all his experience of incarnation, and human joys and sufferings, so that now he is the Spirit of Christ. He has imparted to the Holy Spirit his dying and his very experience of death – “Father into thy hands I commend my spirit,” and then Jesus tasted death for three days. The Holy Spirit knows all of that as exhaustively as Christ knew it. There is this dead man who has been buried in a tomb for three days. He is as cold as ice. There is nothing alive about him whatsoever, and then in that very tomb the Spirit of God works and he raises Christ from the dead (though his resurrection is also called the work of the Father and the work of Jesus himself). The Spirit knows how to give life where there had only been death. He has done it, and so the Spirit is life. He can change a heart of stone into a heart of flesh.
You find a pebble on the beach and the waves and currents and other pebbles have worked on the special combination of rock in that pebble and as you pick it up you spot that it is the size and shape of a heart. Your mind turns to the heart of the natural man which you know is as stony as that. Just as stony . . . read my lips! The Bible is utterly unyielding as it affirms that fact. Look at the verses we have just been considering; “the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God” (vv. 7&8). Let’s return to my image of the heart as a heart-shaped pebble. If you attached a nasturtium seed to it with Blue Tack and set it down in the light you could return to it in six months or even a year and you would find zero growth. It is a stone. It is incapable of producing life. It is unable to please God. Can anyone bring a living thing out of a lifeless thing? Not one single man can, only the omnipotent Spirit of God; he can do what we cannot do. The Spirit is life. He has shown this to men and angels by raising Jesus from the dead. He makes the dead sinner live. There is no hope in man. We are going to die; this body I care for and wash and perfume and deodorize – worms are going to devour it. The body is death. Woe! But the Spirit is life! Hallelujah.
Then Paul underlines it by adding, “because of righteousness” (v.10). Jesus of Nazareth has lived a life of blameless righteousness. Born under the law he has done everything that the moral law and the civil law and the ceremonial law demanded. He is righteousness incarnate. Jesus has also made full atonement for our lives of unrighteousness. We know that because upon the third day God raised him from the dead. Christ was raised for our justification. Men said he was a blasphemer and deserved to die, but God said, “This is my beloved Son” and resurrected him. So the great truth of justification is found here, that it is the righteousness of the man Christ Jesus that God imputes freely to all who turn from their sin and trust in Jesus. Then in an act of justification God declares them righteous. There is life in its fulness, the life of God in the soul of man, because God declares them to be righteous. The Spirit is their life because Christ is their righteousness. The Spirit annuls our death because Jesus has become our righteousness.
When you believe what Paul tells us here in Romans chapter 8, then your believing helps your grieving because you recognize that death does not have the last word. Jesus is the alpha, yes, but he is the omega also. He will speak the last letter of the last word. We are going to hear him alone speaking at the end when every mouth will be closed and every voice silent. There will be a time of union with the triumphant Christ but there will also be reunion with all those who are in Christ. Let us encourage each other with these words. We shall see our beloved family and friends again because the Spirit is life because of Christ’s righteousness.
I would encourage you in your grieving principally by encouraging you in your believing. I would encourage you in your achieving. And what would I help you to achieve? We’re helping them to achieve a rational and satisfying consolation in their grief. God has his purpose in your great loss. We’re not telling people, when they are bereaved, “don’t grieve.” Of course the Bible says that we don’t grieve “as those who have no hope.” Here in our passage is such a great hope. We have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; we have the indwelling of Christ; we have the controlling influence of the Spirit; we have life and righteousness from Spirit and Son.
So we face a future of hope, of resurrection, of reunion. We know how the book ends. If you know how the story finishes, if you know who wins and that you’re on the winning side, does that help? Of course it does. It gives you that tremendous sense of confidence; the word the New Testament uses is hope. Remember that when Paul talks about hope in this epistle he encourages the Roman congregation because he recognizes that endurance is inspired by hope. When you’ve received consolation concerning the resurrection of the body and eternal life, when you have confidence because you know who wins in the end and you’re joined to him, that instills in you a tremendous sense of consistency because that confidence breeds in you a persistence, an unrelenting commitment to keep on keeping on through all your sickness, through all your suffering, through all your sorrowing, through all the sinfulness of this world. You don’t quit, and you know why you don’t quit. You don’t quit because you und
erstand what’s happening in your life.
Romans 8 is the most encouraging chapter in the entire Bible. Yes it talks about death and its certainty but immediately it talks about the one greater and more powerful than death, the Lord Jesus Christ. I need to encourage many of you to start thinking seriously about these things. If we’re going to be fair to people, we have to help them address one of the very few certainties of life and that is their own deaths.
We talk about the fact that Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, is just one heartbeat away from the throne. I’ve got news for you. Every single person in this room is one heartbeat away from eternity. How do you face that? How do you handle that? My task is not to be silent about death but to bring its reality to you and then the greater reality of the Spirit who is life and the resurrection of Jesus Christ for our justification.
11th March 2012 GEOFF THOMAS