Flesh vs. Spirit
(Rom 8:5 ESV) 5 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.
The essence of the Spirit’s indwelling is that we think differently. That is, of course, exactly the lesson of Jeremiah 31 among several other Old Testament Spirit passages. God promises to change our inward being.
(Rom 8:6-8 ESV) 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 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. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Implicit in Paul’s teaching is that the Spirit does not overwhelm our wills. We choose whether to “set the mind on the Spirit.” The Spirit is available to us, and works to help us, but ultimately, the choice is ours.
But if we try to make it on our own, the end is death. The only path to life is through the help of the Spirit. And those who don’t have the Spirit have no help at all. (And, yes, Romans 8:8 speaks against the “available light” theory that some without the Spirit might please God).
The indwelling Spirit
(Rom 8:9-10 ESV) 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 because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
Again, the allusion to Ezekiel 37 — the valley of dry bones — is palpable. The Spirit gives life.
But now Paul weaves a new thread into the argument — the idea that the Spirit “dwells” in you. This language hearkens back to God’s dwelling among the Israelites in the desert, first as a column of smoke and fire and than as the glory — Shekinah — in the Tabernacle. God’s glory later dwelled in the Temple.
God’s dwelling was a means of leadership — showing the direction to move the camp — and a place of communication and worship through sacrifice.
(Exo 29:42-46 ESV) 42 It shall be a regular burnt offering throughout your generations at the entrance of the tent of meeting before the LORD, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there. 43 There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory. 44 I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. 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.
(Exo 40:33-38 ESV) 33 And he erected the court around the tabernacle and the altar, and set up the screen of the gate of the court. So Moses finished the work. 34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 35 And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 36 Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. 37 But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. 38 For the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.
If you were to read through the prophecies we’ve covered about the Spirit in their contexts, you’d find repeated references to Exo. 29:35-36: “I … will be their God, and they shall know that I am the LORD their God.” For instance —
(Jer 31:33 ESV) 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
(Eze 37:27 ESV) 27 My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
It gives me goosebumps. Paul draws the natural conclusion in Romans 8: God will dwell among his people through an indwelling Spirit. Of course.
The indwelling we Christians receive is like God’s indwelling of Israel during the Exodus and in the Temple. Therefore, we become “temples” ourselves, and thus places of sacrifice and places in which God speaks. We are led by the Spirit.
As the Israelites did, we can grumble, be unfaithful, and refuse the Spirit’s leading, but we will be led. And like Israel, we just might choose not to follow.
(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.
The presence of the Spirit promises life — flesh that is no longer mere dry bones today and that receives eternal life after death. We know it’s true because God has already done it for Jesus. Therefore, all who have the Spirit will be resurrected — which recapitulates Rom 8:1 —
(Rom 8:1 ESV) There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
The indwelling of the Spirit assures us that God will be true to his promises. Thus, the absurd notion that there are damned Christians is plainly refuted. All Christians are saved!
Christian call fall away, but when that happens, they are no longer in Christ Jesus and no longer possess the Spirit — and they cannot please God (Rom 8:8). This is, therefore, not something that happens quickly or often. And not every sin or doctrinal error puts us there.
(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.
Paul returns to the fact that we have a choice, and therefore we must remember that we owe everything to Jesus: “We are debtors.”
The proper response is to “put to death the deeds of the body,” that is, “by the Spirit” — with the help of the Spirit — live penitent lives in which we grow into Christ by defeating sin.
Thus, our salvation — whether we live — depends not on whether we have already defeated sin but whether we are defeating sin. We are judged, not against perfection but by the direction of our lives.