The Body Dead, but the Spirit Life
"But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness." Romans 8:10
We are, in the first clause of this passage, conducted to another and more advanced stage in the spiritual life- the indwelling of Christ, and the great blessing which follows. There are some experimental truths in the Christian faith which, from their overpowering magnitude and sanctity, the timid mind is slow to recognize, and the heart to believe. Of such is the doctrine before us. And yet this truth- the indwelling of Christ- is interwoven with the very texture of the Bible. With what distinctness and emphasis it is declared- "Examine yourselves, whether you be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know you not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except you be reprobates?" "He that eats my flesh, and drinks my blood, dwells in me, and I in him." "I in them." What single truth can be more clearly affirmed? That it has been but dimly perceived, and in some cases awfully perverted, is but to assert that to which every truth is exposed. Its greatest abuse has been that which affirmed that the indwelling of Christ is an incorporation, and not a union of Christ and the believer only. So that some, predicating their heresy of this doctrine, have affirmed, "I am Christ!" "I am the Holy Spirit!" and thus many have been deluded and drawn away. But the indwelling of Christ in the believer is no more an incorporate union than the land and the sea, or the light and the air, or the soul and the body are an incorporation, or are essentially the same, because they have a union of contact one with the other. And yet the truth for which we plead is a close, personal union. Christ is in the believer, just as the believer is in Christ. We cannot be said to be in the grace of Christ, but we are in Christ himself as the Head of his mystical body. So Christ is in us, not figuratively by his grace, but really by his Spirit. Now, that Christ should thus spiritually dwell in his saints is no wonder, since he received them as a gift, purchased them by his blood, won them by his grace, called them by his Spirit, and is now in heaven preparing for them an eternal mansion. That he should thus dwell in the hearts of all the regenerate, taking a personal, full, and irrevocable possession of them for himself, is perfectly congruous with all that he has done and still is doing for them.
We now approach a solemn fact asserted in this passage:
"The body is dead because of sin." What body is referred to here?
Certainly not, as some have supposed, the body of sin. Who can with truth
affirm of it that it is dead? The individual who claims as his attainment a
state of sinless perfection, an entire victory over the evil propensities
and actings of his fallen nature, has yet to learn the alphabet of
experimental Christianity. Pride is the baneful root, and a fall is often
the fatal consequence of such an error. Oh no! the body of sin yet lives,
and dies not but with death itself. We part not with innate and indwelling
sin but with the parting breath of life, and then we part with it forever.
But it is the natural body to which the Apostle refers. And what an
affecting fact is this! Redeemed by the sacrifice, and inhabited by the
Spirit of Christ, though it be, yet this material fabric, this body of our
humiliation, tends to disease, decay, and death; and, sooner or later,
wrapped in its shroud, must make its home in the grave, and mingle once more
with its kindred dust. "The body is dead because of sin." Our redemption by
Christ exempts us not from the conflict and the victory of the last enemy.
We must confront the grim foe, must succumb to his dread power, and wear his
pale conquests upon our brow. We must die- are dying men- because of sin.
"Death has passed upon all men, for that all have sinned." And this law
remains unrepealed, though Christ has delivered us from the curse. From this
humiliating necessity of our nature, even the non-condemned find no avenue
of escape; from this terrible conflict, no retreat. One event happens to the
wicked and the righteous- they both leave the world by the same dismal
process of dissolution. But the character of death is essentially changed;
and herein lies the great difference. In the one case, death is armed with
all its terrors; in the other, it is invested with all its charms- for death
has an indescribable charm to the believer in Jesus. Christ did not die to
exempt us from the process of death, but he died to exempt us from the sting
of death. If, because of original and indwelling sin in the regenerate, they
must taste of death; yet, because of pardoned sin in the regenerate, the
"bitterness of death is past." If, because there exists a virus in the body,
the body must dissolve; yet, because there exists an infallible antidote,
the redeemed soul does not see death as it passes through the gloomy portal,
and melts away into its own light, life, and immortality. How changed the
character of death! If the body of the redeemed is under the sentence, and
has within it the seeds of death, and must be destroyed, yet that death is
to him the epoch of glory. It is then that the life within germinates and
expands; it is then that he really begins to live. His death is the birthday
of his immortality. Thus, in the inventory of the covenant, death ranks
among the chief of its blessings, and becomes a covenant mercy. "Death is
gain." "What!" exclaims the astonished believer, "death a blessing- a
covenant blessing! I have been wont to contemplate it as my direst curse, to
dread it as my greatest foe." Yes; if death is the sad necessity, it is also
the precious privilege of our being. In the case of those who are in Christ
Jesus, it is not the execution of a judicial sentence, but the realization
of a covenant mercy. And as the Christian marks the symptoms of his
approaching and inevitable dissolution- watching the slow but unmistakable
advances of the fell destroyer- he can exclaim, as he realizes that there is
now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus-
"Come, Death, shake hands;
I'll kiss your bands,
It is happiness for me to die.
What! do you think
That I will shrink?
I go to immortality."
"Because of sin." Ah! it is this truth whose dark shadow flits across the brightness of the Christian's condition. To what are all our ailments, calamities, and sorrows traceable, but to sin? And why do we die? "Because of sin." The immediate and proximate causes of death are but secondary agents. Had we not transgressed, we then had not died. Deathlessness would have been our natural and inalienable birthright. And were we more spiritually-minded than we are, while we looked onward with steady faith to a signal and glorious triumph over the King of Terrors, we would blend with the bright anticipation of the coming victory the humbling conviction that we have sinned, and that therefore the body is dead.
"But the Spirit is life because of righteousness." What are we to understand by the term spirit? Our reply will at once go to exclude the idea of the Holy Spirit. Of the Third Person of the blessed Trinity it cannot be of whom the Apostle speaks. The only remaining interpretation, then, is that which restricts its meaning to the spiritual and immortal part of the believer- the regenerated spirit of man, and not the regenerating Spirit of God. If, as we have shown, the first part of the antithesis must be understood of the material frame, the second part must be understood of the spiritual nature, body and soul being placed in direct contrast. The cheering declaration, then, of the Apostle is, that the spiritual and immortal part of our nature is recovered from the curse, renewed and quickened with a divine and heavenly life. If the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is life because of righteousness. The spirit is life- instinct with a new and deathless principle- because Christ is the righteousness of his people. On the broad basis of God's method of justification our spirit lives. In every point of view, Christ is identified with our spiritual life. 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! you can but touch the material fabric- the inner life towers above your reach, hidden with Christ in God. Grave! you can 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. Oh, what a glorious immortality unveils to the eye of faith. If through the gloomy portals of death the spirit of the believer must pass, in its transit to eternity, life attends it, and life awaits it, and life crowns it. Animated with a deathless existence, clothed with the robe of a new-born immortality, it burst forth from its enthralment, and, smiling back upon death, speeds its way to glory, honor, and endless life. To this life let us look forward. From a life now experienced, let us live for a life so soon to be enjoyed. The body must die.
But what of that? the spirit is life. And the life-inspired spirit will come back again, re-enter and re-animate the slumbering dust- and now, remodeled and spiritualized it will be with Christ and all the saints in the new heaven and the new earth, wherein will dwell righteousness.