Romans 8: Christ is Our Life

“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.”
 – Romans 8:9-10

We have seen that to be a Christian is to be a person who is spiritually found in Christ, which also means that the Holy Spirit (also referred to by Paul as the Spirit of God or the Spirit of Christ) now dwells in, or indwells, the believer. And that word, dwell, is an important verb to consider. As Leon Morris points out, “the Spirit is not an occasional visitor; he takes up residence in God’s people.”[1] Which is an incredibly comforting truth to consider - God will literally never leave us.

We cannot lose our salvation and we cannot lose the presence of the Holy Spirit. Paul says here in verse 9 that “anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him,” meaning, without the Spirit of Christ you do not belong to Christ. But if you do have the Spirit then you do belong to Christ. And Christ himself promised, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out… this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:37, 39). Do you see? To have the Spirit dwell within you means to have Christ forever!

It also means Christ is in you! Do you see that in verse 10? “But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.” Again, I’m stunned at the depth of Paul’s Trinitarian theology. In verse 9 he’s speaking about the Spirit within us and now, in verse 10, he says that’s the same thing as having Christ within us. Next time Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons approach your front door, ask them to read Romans 8:9-10 with you and show them the truth of the Trinity. John Chrysostom, the “Golden-tongued” preacher of the early church remarked that “Paul is not saying here that the Spirit is Christ but is showing rather that anyone who has the Spirit has Christ as well. For where the Spirit is, there Christ is also. Wherever one person of the Trinity is present, the whole Trinity is present too. For the Trinity is undivided and has a perfect unity in itself.”[2]

Consider too the insight from Saint Augustine that “The Holy Spirit is in a certain sense the ineffable communion of the Father and the Son… For he is called properly what they are called in common, because the Father is a spirit and the Son is a spirit, and the Father is holy and the Son is holy. In order that the communion between them might be signified by a name that is appropriate to both, the Holy Spirit is called the gift of both.”[3] And it’s this reality that I think allows Paul to say that if we have the Spirit then we have Christ, and “if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness” (vs. 10).

Fundamentally, the Christian is marked by the presence of the divine life. Of course, we do not yet fully enjoy the fullness of this life; we won’t until glory. Yes, we’re freed from the power of sin, but we’re not yet freed from the presence of sin. Nonetheless, the presence of the Spirit within us is the earnest, the pledge, the firstfruits of what’s to come. In fact, as Paul will argue in verse 11, it is the presence of the resurrection already at work within us now. And even though sin is still present in our lives, and because of sin we will all physically die, even still, we who have the Spirit will live. We live spiritually now and then physically forever in our resurrection. And notice how Paul marks the presence of, or the evidence of, our spiritual life. How do we know we have the Spirit and are indeed alive? “Because of righteousness.”

Firstly, this is the righteousness of Jesus Christ. We are alive because of his righteousness. Paul has already made this point in Romans chapter 5. “For if, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men” (Romans 5:17-18).

But Christ’s righteousness is always evidenced within the life of a believer. By the sanctifying grace of the Spirit within us and because of our trust in Christ alone, Christ’s righteousness evidences itself in our increased righteousness. So secondly, Paul is speaking here of righteousness seen in our own lives. This is exactly what Paul has been arguing in Romans chapter 6 where he says, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”

Listen to Octavius Winslow as he muses on the implications of this passage. “We live a life of justification by Christ – a life of holiness from Christ – a life of faith in Christ – and a life of immortality with Christ. Thus, in all its phases, “Christ is our life.” O glorious truth! Welcome death – the spirit lives! Welcome the grave – the spirit is beyond it! Death, thou canst but touch the material fabric – the inner life towers above thy reach, hid with Christ in God. Grave, thou canst but imprison the body – the soul is at home with Jesus! I live, not because of any righteousness which I have wrought, but because Christ is my righteousness. I live on account of the Righteous One – I live in the Righteous One – and I shall live forever with the Righteous One. Thus is the spirit life because of righteousness.”[4]

Oh what a humbling yet joyous truth to give our devotion to, that though our outer-self is wasting away, our bodies decaying and dying, nonetheless in Christ we have true life, life everlasting, and unending spiritual life. God has not left us for dead but has sent his Son to enter into death on our behalf, and in his resurrection, pull each of those for whom he has died out of the grave with him! His life is now our life and since Christ will never die again, neither shall we. Even our own physical death will only be but a momentary intermission in the now unending eternal drama of living life in the Spirit.

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] Leon Morris, The Epistle To The Romans (Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), p. 308

[2] Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans, 13.

[3] Augustine, On The Trinity, 5:11

[4] Octavius Winslow, No Condemnation In Christ Jesus (The Banner of Truth Trust, 1991), p. 127-128


Stephen Unthank