How Does the Holy Spirit Come to Live In Us?

How does the Holy Spirit come to live in us? This question comes from our adult Sunday school class discussion of Romans 8. It is based on Romans 8:11 (NIV) “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who lives in you.” You will probably not be surprised that the class was more eager to talk about Romans 8:28 “…in all things God works for the good… .”

The verse begins with a seemingly conditional statement “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you” but ends on a positive note “give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who lives in you.” In addition to the difficulty concerning the Holy Spirit coming to live in us, we have a further problem in how the Holy Spirit can give life to mortal bodies. The word mortal means subject to death.

A long time ago my wife and I attended the volunteer training for a Billy Graham crusade. I remember the instructor saying that it was fairly common for volunteers to discover that they were not “saved.” How could this be? They were all people from churches. They were eager to do something good. They all intended to help in the evangelizing of the unsaved. They were like the many other people who have been told they were Christians yet they had not received the Holy Spirit within them. This was evidenced by the fact they realized they lacked something in their Christian experience.

I think that had they asked their church leaders about the presence of the Holy Spirit in them, they would have been told that the Spirit had come to them as a “tag-a-long” to some other aspect of Christianity. They event mentioned might have been “believing in Jesus,” baptism, living a good life or something else. What they most likely would not be told was, as Jesus told Nicodemus (John 3:7-8), that the Holy Spirit moves as it will. It acts outside of the control of people or churches. So how does it happen that it comes to certain people?

For the answer to that I think we have to go to the difficult subject of the election of believers. Some people do not like election because it removes from individuals the ability to control their own spiritual understanding and destiny. Others, often unbelievers, think it is unjust that some should be chosen for salvation and others rejected. Personally, I like election because it is the only reasonable explanation as to why I am a believer in Jesus Christ. I have no personal goodness to offer God and for many years I tried to live without God. However, since the Holy Spirit “did a number” on me I have become more and more dedicated to living for Jesus.

The Holy Spirit lives in those in whom it is the Father’s purpose that the Spirit does so. These are people chosen, on some basis we do not understand, before the creation of the universe. The life the Spirit gives to our mortal bodies is such that we can be redeemed from slavery to our flesh and put on the path to our glorification, which will be finalized in heaven. Without this spiritual coming to life there is, I think, nothing of our bodies that can endure beyond the earth so in this way the Spirit gives life to our mortal bodies.

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What Did the Disciples Doubt?

Matthew 28:16-20 tells us of Jesus giving the eleven disciples what we call the Great Commission. It is a familiar and much cited passage and yet there is something in it that our adult Sunday school discussion class skipped over that seemed to me of interest. This was the phrase in verse 17 “but some doubted.”

The complete verse 17 (NIV) reads “When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.” Apparently Matthew was the only gospel writer to make this statement as no cross references are given in the NIV for this verse nor does the Oxford Study Bible provide any. As far as commenting on it, the Life Application Study Bible does not refer to it. This is not an extensive survey of possible aids to understanding what Matthew had in mind but it seems our class was not the only people willing to just let it sit there without attempting to understand how it could be true.

Another Matthew, Matthew Henry did not omit a comment on this verse. He writes “All that see the Lord Jesus with an eye of faith will worship him. Yet the faith of the sincere may be very weak and wavering. But Christ gave such convincing proofs of his resurrection, as made their faith to triumph over doubts.” What Henry writes is true in the large view but does not deal with why there were doubts among the disciples, on that mountain, on that day, with the risen Jesus present with them.

The doubt may have arisen from the fact that it was evident by then that the messianic kingdom of Jewish anticipation was not what Jesus had described when he spoke to them in his prior teaching of the kingdom of God/heaven. What was it to be and what was their role in it going to be? This seems to me at the root of their uncertainty and why it can be said that some doubted.

Jesus, as always, was aware of their concerns and, as was typical, gave them a task they had not foreseen. They were to use his kingly authority on earth to make disciples from all nations. They were to make them citizens of the kingdom of God by baptizing them in the names of the Trinity. Then they were to teach them be good subjects of their Lord, that is they would be shown how to obey the commandments Jesus had taught the disciples, love God and love your neighbor.

The disciples were only the first of many Christians who have had uncertainty about the nature of the kingdom of God and their participation in it. These doubts have often been resolved by placing the kingdom in another time or place and envisioning Christians as reigning in it. This is another version of the Jewish expectation and not at all what Jesus taught the eleven disciples gathered that day on a mountain.

Christians have also been distracted from the focus on the kingdom of God that was central the Christ’s teaching by confusing the church with the kingdom. It is clear, though, that the kingdom of God exists both on earth and in heaven while the church is an institution whose purpose is to support the spread of the kingdom and the growth in maturity of all believers. The church is both flawed and temporary, as are all the things of earth. At the end of time it will cease to exist while the kingdom of heaven, and those who belong to it, will endure forever.

The Ladder to Love

The apostle Peter in his second letter, in the context of what divine power has provided us Christians, gives us what might be called a ladder to love (2 Peter 1:5-11). The purpose of his instruction is that we might “participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Peter 1:4 NIV).

Faith is the first rung on the ladder, as we might expect. Everything given to us in Christ is based on our belief in him and the Father.

Next, we are told to add goodness to our faith. It is a great help to us in our lives if we both be good and do good.

Knowledge comes after goodness. We might think the order here should be reversed. However, if we waited until we had great knowledge of God, Christ and the Holy Spirit we would be postponing the exercise of the knowledge we already have about things that are good to do.

After knowledge comes self-control. One of the things we will learn through increasing our knowledge ourselves is how difficult self-control is and on how many occasions it will be tested.

Perseverance is required of us because none of the steps on the ladder are easy and there are many times our feet will slip off the rungs. Without perseverance the ultimate promises given to us in Christ cannot be fulfilled.

When we think of godliness, we should think of the ability that is given to us to become more like Christ as we mature in our Christianity. We will not be perfected while still on the earth but we can hope to be markedly improved in being an image of God.

Kindness is of the nature of Christ. The Gospels tell of many instances when Jesus was kind to people who did not expect it, did not deserve it, did not understand it, and sometimes did not even thank him for it. As we come to be more like him, we will be kind just as he was to those he encountered.

When we come to the final rung, love, we are reaching what is the essence of the Trinity. Their love for us is what puts us at the foot of the ladder of love and provides the grace we need to ascend it. When we return the love given us by them, and love the people around us, we are as we were meant to be when we were envisioned before the creation of the earth.

Peter tells us that climbing the ladder of love will keep us from being ineffective and unproductive in our knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Then he adds a warning that if we do not seek to acquire the qualities described we are nearsighted and blind and are forgetting our cleansing from our sins.

He then goes on to tell us we should be eager to make our position in Christ sure as having these qualities will keep us from falling [into the corruption caused by evil desires?] and insure our welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior (2 Peter 1:8-11).