But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, this one is not his. But if Christ is in you, on the one hand the body is dead because of sin, but on the other, the Spirit is life because of righteousness (my translation)
In this series about the Holy Spirit, we are looking at the gift of the Holy Spirit’s saving work in applying the salvation purchased by the Lord Jesus Christ. Why do we need this gift? We need it because humans are dead in sin. But the Spirit is able to meet this need by regenerating grace, which involves a washing and renewal (Titus 3:5), and which conveys an image or likeness unto God (Colossians 3:10). When the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God to cause us to be born again, four things happen:
- He gives a new heart (inner person) and life
- He gives the gifts of repentance and faith
- He breaks the power of sin
- He opens our hearts to Christ and his glory
The old person of the heart that was dead in sin is born again, so that we are now new in the Lord Jesus Christ. All this happens as the Holy Spirit brings us into union with Christ. “In Christ” is the key idea of salvation. All aspects of salvation, whether regeneration and conversion, or justification, or adoption, or sanctification, or glorification, happen because of our union with the Lord Jesus Christ.
In this article and the next, we will look more closely at this union with Christ that the Spirit of God produces. How does it affect us? Why do we who belong to Christ need to know this truth? To grasp what the Spirit does, we need to understand our present situation. Think carefully. As soon as the Holy Spirit unites us to Christ, we Christians enter into a new experience. There is the tension between life and death.
- On the physical level, nothing immediately changes. The curse of Adam’s sin remains on our physical bodies (Romans 5:12). The body is dead because of sin (Romans 8:10). This explains why Christians still die physically. Our spirits are reborn, but the body stays in the realm of death.
- Although saved by grace, we still experience the evil of our enemy, death. The last enemy to be destroyed is death (1 Cor 15:26 ESV; cf. 2 Cor 4:7-12, 16; 1 Th 4:13).
- This explains the reason for our “groaning” in this life. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Romans 8:22-25 ESV).
Christians should boldly face all of reality, including death. We can share in the sorrows of our unsaved family and friends. We know the truth of the separation that death causes.
Though not spoken of in this verse, the sinful, physical body continues to be the playground of sin. A large part of our struggle with sin concerns sin’s use of the body (Romans 6:6, 12-13, 19; 12:1). Our union with Christ demands that we take this struggle seriously (1 Corinthians 6:12-20).
But do not think that the sinful body is our only problem. The regenerate human spirit is also capable of sin (2 Corinthians 7:1; cf. Philippians 2:1-4; Colossians 3:5; etc.). Though we are new in Christ, we are not yet perfect in Christ. There is a very significant difference between (1) being a new person in Christ and having the reign of sin broken (Romans 6:14), and (2) what is still to come when we are perfect in Christ, free forever from the possibility of sin in glory. For this reason, we look forward in hope to the redemption of the body (Romans 8:23, quoted above).
So then, we must face the reality of our present condition. We are new in Christ and united to him by grace through faith. However, we still wait (patiently) for the fulfillment of all we will be in him. New life is tremendous, but in this present age, we still struggle. We are new creation people in an old creation world. Next, we will look at specifics about the way the Spirit of Christ helps us to live for God’s glory in this time.
Grace and peace, David