(Rom 8:10 ESV) 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
Some have argued that “Christ is in you” means we are indwelt by the Spirit in the same sense we are indwelt by Christ — through obedience to the “law of Christ” or “law of the Spirit.” That reading, of course, is entirely out of context. Christ is in us because his Spirit is in us. The same thought appears at —
(John 14:20 ESV) 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.
— which is another passage dealing with the indwelling Spirit. But the most explicit statement is found in –
(Eph 3:14-19 ESV) 14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith–that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
The thought is plainly that Christ dwells in our hearts via the Spirit’s work in us.
Therefore, Paul says, if Jesus lives in your body (through the Spirit) — which is dead under the law of sin and death — then the Spirit gives life (again, alluding to Deu 30:6). And this is all because of “righteousness.”
Now, scholars debate whether this is our righteouss living resulting from the Spirit’s power in us, or Christ’s imputed righteousness (we are credited with the righteousness of Jesus), or God’s righteousness, meaning God’s keeping his covenant promise.
N. T. Wright, and many others, argue that in Romans, “righteousness of God” refers to God keeping his promises, especially his promises to Abraham. Consider —
(Rom 3:21-26 ESV) 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it– 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
This is not the place for detailed exposition. The argument is laid out here —
The result isn’t critical to our understanding the Spirit — but I suspect Paul is referring to God keeping his promise to save us by faith, detailed in the preceding chapters of Romans. The answer absolutely is not that we have somehow become so righteous we need no grace.
(Rom 8:11 ESV) 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.
Paul now moves to the topic of hope — the fact that the Spirit is in us assures us that we will be resurrected. Those with the Spirit will be resurrected. Those without the Spirit will not be. There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus! All with the Spirit are saved.
(Rom 8:12-13 ESV) 12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
“You will live” again refers to Deu 30:6: “that you may live.” And here we see another aspect of the indwelling Spirit. It is “by the Spirit” we “put to death the deeds of the body.”
(Rom 6:6-8 ESV) 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
Clearly, “deeds of the body” means “sin.” Therefore, the Spirit helps us defeat sin in our lives. It helps us overcome our sinful natures in the struggle Paul described back in Rom 7.
Now, notice the parallels between chapters 6 and 8. In chapter 6, Paul speaks of the moment of our baptism, when we were buried and resurrected with Jesus, demonstrating that “we will also live with him.” This is also a promise we have in the form of the indwelling Spirit — received, of course, when we were first saved.
Our initial conversion is a new birth, and we are born of the Spirit, meaning we receive the Spirit through whom God washes our sins away by the power of Jesus’ blood — and which stays with us to defeat the “law of sin and death” and give us the victory at the end.
You see, God wants us to make it! All three persons of the Trinity are working to see that we make it to the end. Our future resurrection is pictured and anticipated in our baptism, and the Spirit works powerfully in us to help us get there. It’s a big, big deal. And part of what the Spirit does is work within us to help us defeat sin — the deeds of the body.
(Rom 8:14 ESV) For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
By being baptized into Jesus, we take on his son-ness. We, too, become sons of God because we are “led by the Spirit.” This is obviously parallel to —
(Gal 5:18 ESV) 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
So what does it mean to be “led by the Spirit”? Well, we’ll get there. But we already see some substantial parts of it. The Spirit helps us bear fruit for God. The Spirit helps us defeat sin in our lives. The Spirit pours the love of God into our hearts. The Spirit circumcises our hearts, that is, changes our hearts so that we want to obey his will. Indeed, the Spirit makes Deuteronomy 10 a reality in our lives —
(Deu 10:12-20 ESV) 12 “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good? 14 Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. 15 Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. 16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. 17 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. 18 He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. 19 Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. 20 You shall fear the LORD your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear.
It’s not that the Spirit makes us in-fact sinless. Rather, the idea is that the Spirit changes our hearts so that we obey from the heart. The goal is not perfect obedience or perfect understanding. It’s a circumcised heart — a heart that truly wants to obey.
You see, God began calling on his people to love him and to care for those he cares for — the orphan, the widow, the alien — not because we fear hell but because we’ve been re-made to have hearts like his heart, hearts that love God and love those who need help. This is the Spirit’s leading.
We got on the wrong path when the question became tongues vs. no tongues and special revelation vs. no special revelation. That’s not what Romans is about. Romans — which is the most detailed exposition of the Spirit’s work in the Bible — other than Deuteronomy! — tells us that it’s all about circumcised hearts. Understand that, and the rest falls into place well enough.
I say “well enough” because there will always be unanswered questions. The key is to get the biggest, most important questions answered. And the answer is: the Spirit’s work is mainly and most importantly about our hearts because the only obedience that matters is obedience from the heart — and that can’t be gained through a system of threats and punishments. It requires a new heart.