N. T. “Tom” Wright has just released another paradigm-shifting book suggesting a new, more scriptural way of understanding the atonement, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. Wright delves deeply into how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplish our salvation.
(Rom. 8:8-11 ESV) 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 [will not be granted immortality] because of [Sin], the Spirit is [eternal] life because of righteousness [God’s faithfulness to the covenants]. 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 [eternal] life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
Paul continues to describe the world in stark terms. Either you have the Spirit and so have immortality or else you are “in the flesh” and so mortal. That is, the saved and those who possess the Spirit are the same people. The damned and those who don’t have the Spirit are the same people.
Beginning in v. 9, Paul introduces the concept of the Spirit dwelling in the Christian. The Greek is oikeō, meaning to reside in a place. Some translations use “live,” which adds unnecessary ambiguity. The thought is one of taking up residence, not merely being there.
The indwelling of the Spirit is in contrast to —
(Rom. 7:17-20 ESV) 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
Three times, Paul says that only sin or nothing good “dwells” in me (referring to mankind or Israel. The indwelling of the Spirit is therefore a critically important part of solving the problem described in chapter 7.
Notice that the promise of eternal life in v. 11 is to “give life to your mortal bodies.” It’s the promise of a bodily resurrection, consistent with —
(Phil. 3:20-21 ESV) 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.
(1 Jn. 3:2 ESV) 2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
— as well as verses in chapter 8 we’ve yet to get to. Obviously, the resurrection body will be wonderfully different from our mortal bodies, but the scriptures say very little about how we’ll be changed. What is very clear, however, is that after Jesus returns, we won’t exist as disembodied souls. Rather, our mortal bodies will be made eternal and changed from glory to glory.
(1 Cor. 15:40-43 ESV) 40 There are heavenly bodies and earthly bodies, but the glory of the heavenly is of one kind, and the glory of the earthly is of another. 41 There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for star differs from star in glory. 42 So is it with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power.
The indwelling of the Spirit is such an amazing promise that Paul finds himself spinning metaphor upon metaphor. The Spirit dwells in the Christian, and yet the Christian is “in the Spirit.” The Spirit is referred to as the Spirit, the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, and even “Christ” in v. 10, where Paul refers to Christ indwelling the Christian through the Spirit.
These are not contradictions but rather efforts to express the inexpressible magnificence of the indwelling in human terms. Possession of the Spirit is a fully Trinitarian experience, as both God and Christ dwell in the Christian through the Spirit. Indeed, according to John’s Gospel, Jesus came to earth to perform God’s mission and the Spirit works in the individual Christian and in the church to continue Jesus’s mission for God.
For the Christian to be in the Spirit and to be indwelled by the Spirit are not greatly different concepts. In fact, the Spirit’s indwelling is so thorough and comprehensive that the Spirit dwells within the entire Christian, body and soul, mind and heart, and so the distinction between who is inside whom goes away. This is part of the unity of the Christian with God that Jesus prayed for —
(Jn. 17:20-23 ESV) 20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”
Jesus prays that his followers be “in us” and that Jesus would be “in them” — the same inconsistency that is not really inconsistent.
The Spirit’s indwelling can’t help but remind us of God’s dwelling among his people during the exodus. God appeared to Israel as a column of smoke and fire, leading Israel through the desert to the Promised Land.
(Exod. 25:8 ESV) 8 And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst.
(Exod. 29:45-30:1 ESV) 45 I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. 46 And they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the LORD their God.
Part of God’s purpose in giving Israel the Promised Land was so that God could dwell among his people. But his dwelling was seen as focused on the tabernacle and, later, the Temple, so that the dwelling of God was not just about God’s Presence being in a place. His Presence makes his dwelling a place of worship. That is, the tabernacle was a place of worship because God chose to dwell there. God didn’t choose to dwell there because it’s a place of worship. The holiness of the tabernacle derives from the indwelling of God there.
Just so, God dwells within individual Christians and the church so that we become a place of worship, a temple for the Holy Spirit, as Paul likes to say. But it’s God’s Presence through the Spirit that makes us places of worship.
In the OT, “worship” does not refer to congregational singing or listening to sermons. It’s about sacrifice. To go up to the Temple to “worship” assumes that a sacrifice is being made.
(Ps. 96:7-10 ESV) 7 “Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength! 8 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts! 9 Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth! 10 Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.”
(Zeph. 3:9-10 ESV) 9 “For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the LORD and serve him with one accord. 10 From beyond the rivers of Cush my worshipers, the daughter of my dispersed ones, shall bring my offering”
Hence, the indwelling redefines “sacrifice” for new covenant purposes —
(Rom. 12:1 ESV) I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.