But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
Going verse by verse through Romans 8 presents the challenges of living for Christ one dimension at a time. The overall message is that we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us, but the piece by piece examination of this mosaic of grace raises questions, both practical and theological, and gives great insight into living the Christian life.
Paul wrote, “The body is dead because of sin,” that is, that the result of sin is death within us today and ultimately death for eternity. (Only by the grace of God do we receive real life.) This means that any life outside of Christ is not true life at all. The best the world can offer us is comforts and diversions and perhaps a chance to fulfill our own personal visions and hopes for earthly life, but none of this is the real life of God. The idea that because of sin death is in the world summarizes the teachings of Paul from chapters 6 & 7 of Romans, and is seen elsewhere in his writings, as well as in John’s.
He also wrote, “The Spirit is life because of righteousness,” that is, through the Spirit of God and because of who He is, He brings divine and righteous life to our souls, even to the reviving of our spirits, which previously had been dead. “Spiritually dead” is the way it is commonly said. This means that only God can do what God does, and that His work is unparalleled by anything else in the universe. He works within us, and the Bible is insistent on this, that God personally takes charge of our inner transformation and spiritual life. Have you ever been to hear a great Bible teacher, someone whose books you have read, or whose ministry you have admired? Perhaps you sacrificed time and energy and money to hear this person and to be able to listen to Him expound the word of God. There are many great teachers and preachers that I also long to hear and listen to and whose books I would like to read. We should treat them with the respect that is due them, but I believe it is important to point out that, as believers, we have living within us One who is infinitely greater than the finest Bible teacher in the world. He is the Spirit of Christ, who was, who is, and who is to come!
There is a burden put on English that did not exist in the original Greek, the burden of capitalization when we refer to the Spirit of God as opposed to the spirit of man – in Greek all the letters were capitalized. Scholars have disagreed with one another on whether Paul meant God’s Spirit or our spirit by the use of the word in this verse. It reads smoothly either way, but, rest assured, that neither interpretation is biblically or theologically incorrect. God brings life to us, as John wrote, “He that has the Son has life,” and this life is limited only by the righteousness of God, which is to say that it has no real limitations except in its intolerance of sin. Where God is, all of His attributes are brought to that situation. And if we are being made new by His Spirit, then we are being made new into His image, which later Romans 8:29 affirms.
His nature becomes our nature. It matters little what I was before or what I had planned to become. The life of a Christian is a life crucified unto the world, and the world to us, and this includes all that we had thought our life to be outside of Christ, even those nice “homey” thoughts that every person thinks. We can put no limitations on what God will do in our hearts and what things will excite us and transform our values and perspectives. There is an inherent danger of seeking to live for Christ a life based on our own natural sympathies or sentimental thoughts, and many of these have their basis in some Christian experience and the fond remembrance of good times. We should not dispose of these – there is nothing wrong with being sentimental – but there is a spiritual danger in the mix if we cannot separate such fond memories from the real transforming work of God in our hearts. Oswald Chambers wrote,
The first thing God does is to knock pretence and the pious pose right out of me. The Holy Spirit reveals that God loved me not because I was lovable, but because it was His nature to do so. Now, He says to me, show the same love to others - “Love as I have loved you.” “I will bring any number of people about you whom you cannot respect, and you must exhibit My love to them as I have exhibited it to you.” You won’t reach it on tiptoe. Some of us have tried to, but we were soon tired.
The Christian life is only measurable or understandable in terms of the nature and power of God. Even my best self and intentions are by far inadequate – I won’t reach it by standing on my “tiptoes” but only by surrendering to Christ and letting Him be in me all that He desires. This is what it means that the Spirit of God is within us. We cannot take a burning branch and put it into our pockets without noticing the fire and heat. Neither can we live life in the power of the Spirit of God without noticing the purifying fire of His righteousness and the heart-melting heat of His love.
Lord, forgive us for limiting You through our own efforts to make our thoughts righteous. Since You reside in us, let us allow You to measure us and grow us into the people You desire us to be. Amen.