A Life You Can’t Live on Your Own

The Point:  God’s Holy Spirit lives in you and empowers you.

Life in the Spirit:  Romans 8:8-13.

[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 because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. [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. [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.  [ESV]

[8-13]  “Those who are controlled by the sinful nature or the flesh, lack the Spirit of God, and cannot please God. They cannot please Him because they cannot submit to His law [7], whereas, it is implied, those who are in the Spirit set themselves to please Him in everything, even to do so more and more. In verse 9 Paul applies to his readers personally the truths he has so far been expounding in general terms. Having been writing in the third person plural, he now shifts to the second person and addresses his readers directly. You are in the Spirit if the Spirit is in you, for the same truth can be expressed in terms either of our personal relationship to the Spirit or of His dwelling in us, the latter denoting a settled, permanent, penetrative influence. This also means, Paul continues, that anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. Verse 9 is of great importance in relation to our doctrine of the Holy Spirit for at least two reasons. First, it teaches that the hallmark of the authentic believer is the possession or indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Indwelling sin [7:17,20] is the lot of all the children of Adam; the privilege of the children of God is to have the indwelling Spirit to fight and subdue indwelling sin. Every true Christian has received the Spirit, so that our body has become a temple of the Holy Spirit in which He dwells [1 Cor. 6:19]. Conversely, if we do not have Christ’s Spirit in us, we do not belong to Christ at all. This makes it plain that the gift of the Spirit is an initial and universal blessing, received when we first repent and believe in Jesus. Of course there may be many further and richer experiences of the Spirit, and many fresh anointings of the Spirit for special tasks, but the personal indwelling of the Spirit is every believer’s privilege from the beginning. To know Christ and to have the Spirit are one. Secondly, verse 9 teaches that several different expressions are synonyms. We have already seen that being in the Spirit is the same as having the Spirit in us. Now we note that the Spirit of God is also called the Spirit of Christ, and that to have the Spirit of Christ in us is to have Christ in us. This is not to confuse the persons of the Trinity by identifying the Father with the Son or the Son with the Spirit. It is rather to emphasize that, although they are eternally distinct in their personal modes of being, they also share the same divine essence and will. In consequence, they are inseparable. What the Father does He does through the Son, and what the Son does He does through the Spirit. Indeed, wherever each is, there are the others also [see John 14:16-23]. Also affirming that to have the Spirit in us is the distinguishing mark of Christ’s people, Paul proceeds to indicate two major consequences of His indwelling. Both verse 10 and verse 11 begin with an if clause relating to this indwelling: But if Christ is in you [10]; If the Spirit of him … dwells in you [11]. These two if statements do not express any doubt about the fact of the indwelling, but they point to its results. What are these? The first Paul describes in terms of life [10-11] and the second in terms of debt or obligation [12-13]. In what sense is the body dead because of sin [10]? It does not mean actual, physical death because Paul goes on in verse 13 to speak of the deeds of the body. It is better to understand dead as meaning ‘mortal’, that is, subject to death and destined for it. This would fit in with Paul’s references in Romans to our mortal bodies [6:12; 8:11] and elsewhere to our physical decaying and dying. At the same time, in the midst of our physical mortality, our spirit is alive, for we have been quickened or made alive in Christ [6:11,13,23]. What, however, is the cause of this double condition, namely a dying body and a living spirit? The answer lies in the repeated because, which attributes death to sin and life to righteousness. Since Paul has already made this attribution in his Adam-Christ parallelism in chapter 5, he must surely be saying that our bodies became mortal because of Adam’s sin, whereas our spirits are alive because of Christ’s righteousness [5:15-18,21], that is, because of the righteous standing He has secured for us. The ultimate destiny of our body is not death, however, but resurrection. To this further truth Paul now proceeds in verse 11. How can we be so sure about our resurrection? Because of the nature of the indwelling Spirit. He is not only the Spirit of life [2], but the Spirit of resurrection. For He is the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead. Therefore the God whose Spirit He is, will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. We note this further allusion to the three persons of the Trinity – the resurrecting Father, the resurrected Son and the Spirit of resurrection. Further, Christ’s resurrection is the pledge and the pattern of ours. The same Spirit who raised Him will also raise us. The same Spirit who gives life to our spirits [10] will also give life to our bodies [11]. This does not mean that our dead bodies will be revivified or resuscitated, and so restored to their present material existence, only to die again. No, resurrection includes transformation, the raising and changing of our body into a new and glorious vehicle of our personality, and its liberation from all frailty, disease, pain, decay and death. The resurrection body will be the perfect vehicle of our redeemed personality. We come now to the second consequence of the dwelling in us of God or Christ through the Spirit. The first was life; the second is a debt or obligation. So then, brothers, we are debtors [12]. What is this debt? It is not to share the gospel with the world as in 1:14, but to live a righteous life. We have no obligation to the flesh, to live according to the flesh [12]. It has no claim on us. Our obligation is rather to the Spirit, to live according to His desires and dictates. Paul’s argument seems to be this: if the indwelling Spirit has given us life, which he has, we cannot possibly live according to the flesh, since in that way lies death. How can we possess life and court death simultaneously? Such an inconsistency between who we are and how we behave is unthinkable, even ludicrous. No, we are in debt to the indwelling Spirit of life to live out our God-given life and to put to death everything which threatens it or is incompatible with it. Verse 13 sets the option before us as a solemn life-and-death alternative. There is a kind of life which leads to death, and there is a kind of death which leads to life. Verse 13 thus becomes a very significant verse on the neglected topic of mortification (the process of putting to death the body’s misdeeds). It clarifies at least three truths about it. First, what is mortification? Mortification is neither masochism (taking pleasure in self-inflicted pain), nor asceticism (resenting and rejecting the fact that we have bodies and natural bodily appetites). It is rather a clear-sighted recognition of evil as evil, leading to such a decisive and radical repudiation of it that no imagery can do it justice except ‘putting to death’. In fact, the verb Paul uses normally means to ‘kill someone’, ‘hand someone over to be killed’, especially of the death sentence and its execution. Elsewhere the apostle has called it a crucifixion of our fallen nature, with all its passions and desires. And what we are to put to death is the deeds of the body, that is, every use of our body which serves ourselves instead of God and other people. Secondly, how does mortification take place? We note at once that it is something that we have to do. It is not a question of dying or of being put to death, but of putting to death. In the work of mortification we are not passive, waiting for it to be done to us or for us. On the contrary, we are responsible for putting evil to death. True, Paul immediately adds that we can put to death the deeds of the body only by the Spirit, by His agency and power. For only He can give us the desire, determination and discipline to reject evil. Nevertheless, it is we who must take the initiative to act. Negatively, we must totally repudiate everything we know to be wrong, and not even think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature [13:14]. If temptation comes to us through what we see, handle or visit, then we must be ruthless in not looking, not touching, not going, and so in controlling the very approaches of sin. Positively, we are to set our minds on the things the Spirit desires [5], set our hearts on things above [Col. 3:1-3], and occupy our thoughts with what is noble, right, pure and lovely [Phil. 4:8]. In this way mortification (putting evil to death) and aspiration (hungering and thirsting for what is good) are counterparts. Both verbs (set their minds [5] and put to death [13]) are in the present tense, for they describe attitudes and activities which should be continuous, involving taking up the cross every day and setting our minds on the things of the Spirit every day. Thirdly, why should we practice mortification? One motive is that we are debtors to the indwelling Spirit of life. Another motive is that the death of mortification is the only road to life. Verse 13 contains the most marvelous promise, which is expressed in a single Greek verb, you will live. Paul is not now contradicting himself. Having called eternal life a free and undeserved gift [6:23], he is not now making it a reward for self-denial. Nor by life does he seem to be referring to the life of the world to come. Instead he seems to be alluding to the life of God’s children, who are led by His Spirit and assured of His fatherly love. The rich, abundant, satisfying life, he is saying, can be enjoyed only by those who put their misdeeds to death. Even the pain of mortification is worthwhile if it opens the door to fullness of life.” [Stott, pp. 224-229].

Heirs with Christ:  Romans 8:14-17.

[14]  For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. [15]  For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!" [16]  The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, [17]  and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.  [ESV]

[14-17]  “What is immediately noteworthy about this paragraph is that in each of its four verses God’s people are designated His children or sons, and that in each this privileged status is related to the work of the Holy Spirit. The whole paragraph concerns the witness the Spirit bears us, that is, the assurance He gives us. The question is: precisely how is the Spirit’s witness borne? Paul assembles four pieces of evidence. First, the Spirit leads us into holiness. Secondly, in our relationship to God He replaces fear with freedom. Thirdly, in our prayers He prompts us to call God ‘Father’. Fourthly, He is the firstfruits of our heavenly inheritance. Thus radical holiness, fearless freedom, filial prayerfulness and the hope of glory are four characteristics of the children of God who are indwelt and led by the Spirit of God. It is by these evidences that He witnesses to us that we are God’s children. First, the Spirit leads us into holiness [14]. Verse 14 clarifies verse 13 with the use of for (or ‘because’) by changing the imagery. Those who through the Spirit put the body’s misdeeds to death [13] are now called those who are led by the Spirit of God, while those who have entered into fullness of life [13] are now called sons of God. Both clarifications are important. To begin with, the kind of ‘leading’ by the Spirit which is the characteristic experience of God’s children is evidently more specific than it sounds. For it consists of, or at least includes as one of its most substantial features, the prompting and strengthening which enable them to put to death the body’s misdeeds. The daily, hourly putting to death of the schemings and enterprises of the sinful flesh by means of the Spirit is a matter of being led, directed, impelled, controlled by the Spirit. Next, if to be led by the Spirit of God is an elaboration of to put to death the deeds of the body by the agency of the Spirit, then the statement that you are sons of God elaborates the promise you will live. The new, rich, full life, which is enjoyed by those who put their misdeeds to death, is precisely the experience of being God’s children. It is evident then that the popular notion of ‘the universal fatherhood of God’ is not true. To be sure, all human beings are God’s offspring by creation, but we become His reconciled children only by adoption or new birth. Just as it is only those who are indwelt by the Spirit who belong to Christ [9], so it is only those who are led by the Spirit who are the sons and daughters of God [14]. As such we are granted a specially close, personal, loving, relationship with our heavenly Father, immediate and bold access to Him in prayer, membership of His worldwide family, and nomination as His heirs, to which Paul will come in verse 17. He now enlarges on some of these privileges. Secondly, the Spirit replaces fear with freedom in our relationship to God [15]. This Paul attributes to the nature of the Spirit we received (an aorist, alluding to our conversion). The term adoption may have a somewhat artificial sound in our ears; but in the Roman world of the first century an adopted son was a son deliberately chosen by his adoptive father to perpetuate his name and inherit his estate. Both here in verse 15 and in Galatians 4:1ff., Paul uses the imagery of slavery and freedom with which to contrast the two eras, the old age and the new, and so our pre- and post-conversion situation. The slavery of the old age led to fear, especially of God as our judge; the freedom of the new age gives us boldness to approach God as our Father. So everything has changed. Freedom, not fear, rules our lives. Thirdly, the Spirit prompts us in our prayers to call God Abba! Father!. In such prayers to the Father, we experience the inward witness of the Holy Spirit, for when we cry, Abba! Father!, taking on our lips the very words which Jesus used [see Mark 14:36], it is the Spirit Himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God. Fourthly, the Spirit is the firstfruits of our inheritance [17]. Paul cannot leave this topic of our being God’s children without pointing out its implication for the future: if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.” [Stott, pp. 230-234]. “But to this picture of privilege Paul immediately adds another consideration: provided we suffer with him. Neither Paul nor any other New Testament writer lets us forget that believers have no easy path. Their Master suffered, and they are called to suffering, too. This is not some perverse accident but an integral part of discipleship. This suffering is in some way linked to the sufferings of Christ [2 Cor. 1:5; Phil. 3:10; Col. 1:24; 2 Tim. 2:11-12]. But our sufferings are not meaningless. We suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with him. The path of suffering is the path to glory.” [Morris, p. 318].


Spirit Intercedes for the Saints:  Romans 8:26-27.

[26]  Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. [27]  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.  [ESV]

[26-27]  “Likewise, Paul begins verse 26, probably meaning that as our Christian hope sustains us, so does the Holy Spirit. In general, the Spirit helps us in our weakness, that is, in the ambiguity and frailty of our ‘already – not yet’ existence. In particular, He helps our weakness in prayer. In this sphere our infirmity is our ignorance: we do not know what to pray for as we ought. But He knows what we do not know. In consequence, the Spirit himself intercedes for us. Thus the children of God have two divine intercessors. Christ is their intercessor in the court of heaven, while the Holy Spirit is their intercessor in the theater of their own hearts. Moreover, the Holy Spirit’s intercession is said to be with groanings too deep for words. The point Paul is making is not that the groans cannot be put into words, but that in fact they are not. They are unexpressed, rather than inexpressible. In the context, these wordless groans must surely be related to the groans both of God’s creation [22] and of God’s children [23], namely longings for final redemption and the consummation of all things. Why do we not know what to pray for? Perhaps because we are unsure whether to pray for deliverance from our sufferings or for strength to endure them. Also, since we do not know what we will be, or when or how, we are in no position to make precise requests. So the Spirit intercedes for us, and does so with speechless groans. It is truly amazing that, having written of the groaning creation and of the groaning church, Paul should now write of the groaning Spirit. The Spirit intercedes for us in unspoken groanings. That is, His intercession is accompanied by them and expressed in them. True, God’s creation and God’s children groan because of their present state of imperfection, and there is nothing imperfect about the Holy Spirit. It must be, therefore, that the Holy Spirit identifies with our groans, with the pain of the world and the church, and shares in the longing for the final freedom of both. We and He groan together. Although wordless, however, these groans are not meaningless. For God the Father, who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God [27]. So three persons are involved in our praying. First, we ourselves in our weakness do not know what to pray for. Secondly, the indwelling Spirit helps us by interceding for us and through us, with speechless groans but according to God’s will. Thirdly, God the Father, who both searches our hearts and knows the Spirit’s mind, hears and answers accordingly. Of these actors, however, it is the Spirit who is emphasized. Paul makes three statements about Him. First, the Spirit helps us (because of our weakness); secondly, the Spirit himself intercedes for us (because of our ignorance of what to pray for); and thirdly, the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (and therefore God listens and responds).” [Stott, pp. 244-246].

Questions for Discussion:

1.         In 8:8-9, Paul sets forth the main contrast he is dealing with in this section. What does Paul mean by in the flesh and in the Spirit? What are each of their characteristics?

2.         What two important truths concerning the Holy Spirit does Paul teach us in 8:9?

3.         In 8:10-11, what are the two major consequences of the Spirit’s indwelling?

4.         What three truths does Paul teach us on the important topic of mortification in 8:13? (Note: for further reading on the topic of mortification, see John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation, by Crossway.)

5.         In chapter 7, Paul discussed the believer’s battle with indwelling sin. In chapter 8, Paul describes the work of the indwelling Spirit. How does the indwelling Spirit enable the believer to win the battle against indwelling sin?


The Epistle to the Romans, Douglas Moo, Eerdmans.

The Epistle to the Romans, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.

Romans, John Stott, Inter Varsity.

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