Indwelling in Romans: Life, Resurrection, and Belonging

“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. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 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’s treatment of the Spirit’s work is rich and nuanced in this text. Four times in three verses he uses language that firmly establishes the Spirit’s vocation of indwelling the believer.

We learn five important things about indwelling from this text. First, Paul connects being “in” the Spirit with indwelling. The man who has the Spirit residing in him is always “in” the Spirit. This is a static reality, one does not move in and out of the Spirit.

Second, an inextricable link is made between the Spirit and Christ. Paul identifies the third person of the Trinity as the Spirit of Christ. He also equates Spirit’s indwelling work with Christ’s presence in us. The Spirit mediates the presence and purposes of Christ within us.

Third, indwelling is equated with belonging. The Spirit’s presence in our lives communicates divine ownership. When God takes up residence in us by the Spirit we are secure in our adoption. The permanence of his new residence means that God will never leave or forsake us.

Fourth, the Spirit works life and righteousness in us in spite of our sin. The indwelling presence of God is a mighty force working our transformation. Change is inevitable for the person who has become the home of God.

Fifth, the promise of our resurrection is tied to the indwelling Spirit. The text’s logic draws a link between the Spirit who raised Christ from the grave and that same Spirit who dwells in us. If he raised Christ, it is certain, he will raise us as well.

Resurrection, transformation, and belonging, these all flow from the Spirit’s indwelling presence. The Spirit of Christ mediates the purposes and presence of Jesus in our lives. Paul helps us understand that being “in” the Spirit is the same as having the Spirit live within us.

In this text alone we see the significance of indwelling. Our current transformation, our future hope, and our status before God are all dependent upon it. We cannot overstate the importance of the Holy Spirit making his home in us.

Backing It Up: The Old Testament Hope of Indwelling

Before we press further into the New Testament passages that explore the truth of indwelling we need to back up and consider the Old Testament background to this magnificent promise. There are a number of places we could turn to look at this. I have chosen one key text from Ezekiel 36:26-27.

“And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.”

The Old Testament narrative is a lengthy illustration of the human need for divine intervention and transformation. Obedience to the law of God is found to be impossible apart from the grace of God at work in our hearts.

This situation can only be remedied by the peculiar work of the Spirit of God. This text touches on the promise of his coming and the powerful change that follows his activity.

In the context Ezekiel is describing what is elsewhere called the new covenant (Jer. 31). The new covenant is God’s decisive plan to penetrate human recalcitrance and create joyful obedience.

The heart of the new covenant is the coming Spirit. In this text, it is the Spirit coming to indwell human beings. Twice the language of “within” is used to denote the intrinsic activity of God’s Spirit. The Spirit’s coming is closely related to the heart surgery mentioned in the text. The old stony heart is removed with a soft responsive one.

Most impressive is the language of the Spirit “causing” individuals to gladly obey the commands of God. Indwelling grace is transformative grace. People are never the same when God takes up residence within them.

The possibility of obedience is created when the Spirit comes down. This is the new covenant promise and this is what the New Testament picks up and explores.

Indwelling in John: From With You to In You

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17).

John 14-17 has been traditionally called the “farewell discourse.” Jesus is preparing his disciples for his coming departure. As to be expected, the disciples are anxious and concerned about their master leaving. Jesus aims to comfort and he does so by explicating some of the richest Trinitarian theology in all Scripture.

Jesus is leaving but the disciples will not be alone. He assures them that his effectual prayer will open heaven and God’s Helper will come down. The Spirit of truth will descend, an answered prayer, a divine gift.

The coming Spirit signals God’s enduring support and presence. By the Spirit God will now dwell eternally with his people (τὸν αἰῶνα). This text removes any possibility of divine withdrawal, for eternity.

John goes a step further. The eternal presence of God with us shifts to God in us. This is an unprecedented move. D.A. Carson captures this in his book on the farewell discourse.

“One of the most remarkable aspects of Jesus’ teaching in this passage, however, is that it is the triune God who takes up his dwelling in the disciples of Jesus. This truth is unavoidable: ‘I will ask the Father and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of Truth.’ . . . The Old Testament writers were concerned that God should live with men [citing 1 Kgs 8:27; Ezek 37:27; Zech 2:10] . . . John insists that this occurred historically in the incarnation: ‘The Word became flesh and lived for a while among us’ (1:14). But now we are brought a stage further: this God reveals himself to the individual believer and takes up residence within him [citing 2 Cor 6:16; Lev 26:12; Jer 32:38; Ezek 37:27; Eph 3:16, 17a; Rev 3:14-21].”[1]

The indwelling Spirit is an unparalleled gift. Jesus tells the disciples a little later that it exceeds even his incarnate presence with them (Jn 16:7). Who can fathom it? God residing in man!

Generosity has always characterized the one true God. He is ever giving the greatest gift to his creatures, himself. This is but another stage in God’s self-donation to broken, believing humanity.

The text indicates the particular role of the Spirit as he indwells believers. He will be another helper. Like the Son of God he will serve and support. The text does not indicate specifics of his helping role. The rest of the New Testament helps us flesh this out.

A few verses later Jesus elaborates on the dynamic of indwelling. “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (Jn 14:23).

The previous verses indicate the Spirit’s residence within us. This verse expands the concept of indwelling to include the Father and Son. We are talking about the Trinity living within. God is indeed with us and now in us!

The implications of this are staggering. God has graciously welcomed us into his fellowship. More than that, he has stooped low and come to us. He has come knocking on our doors and has made himself a home within us.

Coming full circle we must remember that Jesus is speaking comfort to his disciples. The promise of indwelling is intended to bring confidence, peace, and hope. The doctrine here is pastoral to the core.

[1] D. A. Carson, The Farewell Discourse (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), 46-47.

Absurd Grace

The Spirit is the quiet force behind the saving work of the Son. Yet, this unsung hero in our redemption refuses to sing about his contribution. He is fundamentally committed to singing the song of the Son (Jn 16:14). J.I. Packer gives a great illustration of this truth.

The Holy Spirit’s distinctive new covenant role, then, is to fulfill what we may call a floodlight ministry in relation to the Lord Jesus Christ. So far as this role was concerned, the Spirit ‘was not yet’ (John 7:39, literal Greek) while Jesus was on earth; only when the Father had glorified him (see John 17:5) could the Spirit’s work of making men aware of Jesus’ glory begin.

I remember walking to a church one winter evening to preach on the words ‘he shall glorify me,’ seeing the building floodlit as I turned a corner, and realizing that this was exactly the illustration my message needed.

When floodlighting is well done, the floodlights are so placed that you do not see them; you are not in fact supposed to see where the light is coming from; what you are meant to see is just the building on which the floodlights are trained.

The intended effect is to make it visible when otherwise it would not be seen for the darkness, and to maximize its dignity by throwing all its details into relief so that you see it properly. This perfectly illustrates the Spirit’s new covenant role. He is, so to speak, the hidden floodlight shining on the Savior.

Or think of it this way. It is as if the Spirit stands behind us, throwing light over our shoulder, on Jesus, who stands facing us. The Spirit’s message is never, ‘Look at me; listen to me; come to me; get to know me,’ but always ‘Look at him, and see his glory; listen to him, and hear his word; go to him, and have life; get to know him, and taste his gift of joy and peace[1]

The Spirit’s divine condescension does not cease with the saving work of the Son. His humble service is ever present in the life of the church and her individual members. We could speak to his work of conviction, regeneration, guidance, comfort, empowerment, mortification, assurance and resurrection. All of these would reveal unique glimpses into God’s grace and humility.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I am interested in addressing one particular area of the Spirit’s gracious work: indwelling. The New Testament makes an absurd claim about God’s residence. After Christ’s ascension God makes his home in his people by his Spirit. The completion of God’s saving project in Christ is accompanied by a change of the Triune address.

Indwelling means that God moves beyond being with us and shocks us with the grace of being in us! If this does not capture amazing grace I am not sure what does. There are a few New Testament passages that capture the theme of indwelling. We will explore each of these texts and then work out some implications of this doctrine as we continue on in this series of posts.

  1. J.I. Packer, Keeping in Step with the Spirit: Finding Fullness in Our Walk with God. (Baker Books: Grand Rapids, 2005), p. 57.

The Majesty of Divine Selflessness

Sometimes, outrageous biblical truths become commonplace to us. God is constant in his kindness to bring these familiar truths alive to us again and again as we read the sacred script. Old truth becomes fresh truth as the he opens our eyes “to behold wonderful things from the word” (Ps. 119:18).

These are things that have always been there, things we have read many times. He awakens us to truth we know, but don’t know. This has been my experience this last month with one particular truth: the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

There is a strange glory that surrounds the person of the Holy Spirit, a humble splendor. Graham Cole has said that the person and work of the Spirit is a window into “the majesty of divine selflessness.”

His posture is one of tireless condescension and self-effacing service all to the glory of Father and Son. The paradox of his glory is that you can’t really see it. He is not interested in drawing attention to himself. He always works behind the scenes.

This paradox is evident in his work of breathing life into creation through the Son’s speech. The wind blows where God wills but we do not know where it comes from or what it is doing.

We see this principle at work in his empowerment of prophets, priests, and kings. It is unclear to most where Samson gets his strength, where prophets get their words, and where kings get their wisdom.

The paradox is strong in the Spirit’s role as the helper of Christ. He miraculously brings about the birth of the God-man. He fills, empowers, and guides the Son throughout his life and ministry. He upholds the Son on the cross enabling him to offer a perfect sacrifice to the Father. He raises Jesus from the grave and secures his victory over death.

The humble work of the Spirit continues on in his work in our lives…the mind boggling reality of his gracious indwelling. In the next few posts we will explore this great theme.