Romans 8: Brimming with Glory

“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.” – Romans 8:9

The Early Church Father, Basil of Caesarea, in a profound bit of theological reflection, says, “Whoever perceives the Father and perceives the Father by Himself has at the same time a mental perception of the Son. And whoever receives the Son does not mentally dismember him from the Spirit but, in due course…. forms within himself a faith that is a commingling of the three together. Whoever mentions the Spirit alone also embraces in this confession him of whom he is the Spirit. And since the Spirit is Christ’s and of God (Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor. 2:12), as Paul says, the one who ‘draws the Spirit’ draws both the Son and the Father too at the same time, just as someone who grabs a hold of a chain on one end pulls on the other end as well. And if anyone truly receives the Son, he draws in the Father on one hand and the Spirit on the other. For he who eternally exists in the Father can never be cut off from the Father, nor can he who works all things by the Spirit ever be disconnected from his own Spirit. In the same way, anyone who receives the Father virtually receives at the same time both the Son and the Spirit.”[1]

I love the way in which Basil’s heart and mind are incapable of mentioning one Person within the Triunity of God without at the same time having his mind conceive and think of the other two Persons. And this kind of Trinitarian thought is something fully emerging out of the Bible. Basil was a Biblically-steeped theologian. Indeed, this kind of thinking is what Paul himself does in Romans 8, verse 9. Considering as he has that those people who are in Christ Jesus are also those who have the Holy Spirit within them (Romans 8:1-8), here Paul explicitly states that the Holy Spirit is both the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ. This verse is brimming with Trinitarian glory!

Think about how Romans 8 began in verse 1. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” And now notice how Paul talks about being in the Spirit, that is, if the Spirit is indeed in you! Paul assumes, doesn’t he, that to be in Christ and to be in the Spirit is one and the same thing. And of course it is, since there is only one God. But still, we must maintain that the Son of God is different from the Spirit of God who is different from God the Father. In other words, to use the classical language of Christian orthodoxy: there is one God who consists of three distinct Persons. 

What does this mean for us as we continue to meditate upon Romans chapter 8? One application is this: that our salvation is one which is secured for us by the Triune God. It is the Trinity of Father, Son, and Spirit which brings about our redemption and thus it is the Trinity which we magnify in worship because of our redemption. To worship any other god that is not the Triune God of the Bible is to worship a false god.

But Paul’s point here in Romans 8:9 is more than just highlighting the Trinitarian nature of our salvation. He is wanting, rather, to highlight how we can know whether we are in Christ or not. Notice how Paul shifts from speaking in the third person plural in verses 1 through 8 (“those”) to now speaking in the second person (“you”) in verse 9. “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you.” He wants the readers to consider their own reality, their own standing before God, and realize that the hallmark of a Christian is that the Holy Spirit now indwells him.[2]

That’s hugely important because if a person is still “in Adam” (Romans 5:12-21), i.e., an unbeliever, then the hallmark of that person is the indwelling and rule of sin (Romans 7:17-20). But now, the person who is in Christ is also the person who has the Spirit of Christ in them! As Jesus promised his disciples and all those who believed in him, “he [the Spirit] lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:17). This is true of every person who is a believer in Jesus Christ. They are not only born again and justified but they are filled, forever, by the Divine third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.

And the way in which Paul will develop this thought throughout the next section of Romans 8 is key. The evidence of the Spirit within us will be spiritual life, a life marked by righteousness and righteous living, a life characterized by a hatred of and war against sin.

I wonder if you think about that in your own Christian walk. Do you tend to think of the Christian life as consisting in nothing more than a prayer you prayed years ago, holding on to that single moment as a kind “get out of jail” card, or a “passport” into heaven? Or do you think about the Christian life as something where you are fundamentally changed by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit within you? A life that is more and more marked by daily repentance and a renewed zeal to fight against sin? Friends, the difference between these two perspectives on the Christian life is the difference between heaven and hell. 
Sinclair Ferguson, preaching on this passage, asks the very stirring question “How do you think about yourself? ….Do you think about your self biblically? Or have you made up your own way of thinking about the Christian life? You know, you’ve had your sins forgiven, so what do you do now? [Is] the rest of the Christian life a kind of a ‘do-it-yourself?’ No, no, no! Paul is saying you need to see who you are in Christ through Biblical lenses. It will transform your life!”[3] In other words, do you believe what Paul, what the Bible, is saying about you in this text? 

Another Early Church Father, Irenaeus, gives beautiful insight on what Paul is saying here. “We do now receive a certain portion of his Spirit, tending toward perfection and preparing us for incorruption, being little by little accustomed to receive and bear God. The Apostle terms this ‘an earnest,’ that is, a part of the honor that has been promised to us by God, where he says in the epistle to the Ephesians, ‘In which you also, having heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, believing in which we have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance’ (Eph. 1:13). This earnest, therefore, thus dwelling in us, renders us spiritual even now, and the mortal is swallowed up by immortality. ‘For you,’ he declares, ‘are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if it happens that the Spirit of God dwells in you’ (Rom. 8:9). This, however, does not take place by a casting away of the flesh but by the impartation of the Spirit. For those to whom he was writing were not without flesh, but they were those who had received the Spirit of God, ‘by which we cry, Abba, Father’” (Rom. 8:15).[4]

Dear friends, consider the magnitude and dazzling wonder of what Paul is writing here. If we believe in Jesus Christ, we actually have the Holy Spirit personally, actively, intimately, and eternally working within our lives. Is there any issue, any problem, or any kind of stumbling block which can so confound us and tear us away from God’s loving purposes for us? No! As Paul will go on to argue, “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. 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. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” 

What amazing grace. I pray this truth, applied by the Spirit, encourages you in Christ, all to the glory of the Father. 

Stephen Unthank (MDiv, Capital Bible Seminary) serves at Greenbelt Baptist Church in Greenbelt, MD, just outside of Washington, DC.  He lives in Maryland with his wife, Maricel and their two children, Ambrose and Lilou.


[1] Basil of Caesarea, Letter 38.4. I found this quote in Ancient Christian Doctrine, vol. 4: We Believe in the Holy Spirit, ed. By Joel C. Elowsky (IVP Academic, 2009), p. 244

[2] John Stott, The Message of Romans (InterVarsity Press, 1994), p. 224-225

[3] Sermon entitled “Flesh Versus Spirit: Romans 8:5-11” preached Oct. 18, 2009 at Frist Presbyterian of Columbia.

[4] Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5.8.1. Ante-Nicene Fathers (Hendrickson, 1994).


Stephen Unthank