A Commentary by John Stott
Romans 8:9-15. c) The indwelling of the Spirit.
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, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit*. ‘You are controlled by’ is too strong a translation of the straightforward ‘you are in’ the flesh or the Spirit, for Paul immediately clarifies what he means by adding *if the Spirit of God lives in you* (9a). Thus 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 *if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ* (9b).
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. As Jesus had promised, ‘he lives with you and will be in you’. (Jn. 14:17). Now in fulfilment of this promise 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 in 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. Bishop Handley Moule was wise to write that ‘there is no *separable* “Gospel of the Spirit”. Not for a moment are we to advance as it were, from the Lord Jesus Christ to a higher or deeper region, ruled by the Holy Ghost.’
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 (9b) is to have Christ in us (10a). 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 (E.g. Jn. 14:16f.; 21, 23).
After 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). *And if the Spirit…is living in you* (11). These two ‘ifs’ do not express any doubt about the fact of the indwelling (they could be paraphrased, ‘if, as indeed is the case’), but they point to its results. What are these? The first Paul declares in terms of ‘life’ (10-11) and the second in terms of ‘debt’ or obligation (12-13).
Tomorrow: Romans 8:9-15. c). The indwelling of the Spirit (continued).