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.