Ryan M. McGraw
Most of us appreciate the sun. We enjoy its warmth as the flowers bloom in spring and turn their faces toward it, as to a faithful and life-giving benefactor. Yet the sun often serves as a backdrop to our day. We do not often actively meditate on how necessary it is to sustain our lives and how greatly it proclaims God’s glory to us (Ps. 19:4–6). One of my fellow elders at First OPC in Sunnyvale, California, is a solar physicist. He spends a great deal of his time studying the glory of the sun, and, as a faithful believer in Christ, he strives to do so to the glory of his Creator. He sees wonders in this part of God’s creation that few of us are aware of, even though we all enjoy its benefits.
So it is with the doctrine of the Trinity for most Christians. God’s triunity ties together all of the strands of the gospel in the person and work of Jesus Christ, including his resurrection. The Trinity is the tapestry into which the doctrines of the New Testament are woven, and without which our salvation would fall to pieces. However, just as we rarely contemplate the glory of the sun in creation, many believers underappreciate the trinitarian backdrop of their redemption. We need to bring the Trinity, which often stands in the background of our faith and life as Christians, into the foreground of our Christian experience and worship.
Developing a self-conscious Trinitarian devotion can help us greatly in contemplating the glorious significance of Christ’s resurrection. Romans 8:9–11 teaches us several precious truths about the work of the entire Trinity in connection with Christ’s resurrection and in our lives as believers. By his resurrection, Christ lives to his Father by the power of the Spirit. Through his resurrection, believers also live to the Father by the power of the Spirit. This sets the pattern for Christian life and experience, both in this life and in the life to come. Believers live to God by the Spirit because Christ lives to God by the Spirit. They do so in their personal holiness in this life and in the resurrection of the body in the next life.
Our relation to each divine person in verses 9–11 corresponds to the blessings described in verses 12–17, giving us a full picture of how the triune God works both in Christ’s resurrection and in ours. The following meditations are designed to stir up your faith, love, and hope in the Father, who raised his Son from the dead on your behalf, by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit of God and of Christ dwells in believers by virtue of Christ’s resurrection (Rom. 8:9–11a). The apostle Paul presents this as the fundamental reason why we must serve and obey God. While gratitude is the primary motive for our personal holiness, the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ makes our personal holiness possible. If we are believers, then we have been crucified with Christ and have been raised in him to walk in newness of life (Gal. 2:20; Rom. 6:4; Col. 3:1). This is a past action in relation to Christ’s resurrection, not a prediction of a future bodily resurrection.
As a result of union with Christ in his resurrection, believers are, Paul says, no longer “in the flesh.” This means that they are no longer driven by the impulses of their sinful nature. For this reason, he exhorts us elsewhere, “Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God” (Rom. 6:13).
Believers live in the Spirit of God, and the Spirit of God lives in them. There is a mutual interpenetration between believers and the Spirit that mimics, in a dim way, the interpenetration of the persons of the Godhead. Christ applied this teaching to our relation to the Father and to the Son as well in John 14–17 (see especially John 14:20, 23; 17:23). The Spirit is the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Christ. The Father sent the Spirit to dwell in believers through his Son, who purchased the gift of the Spirit for them. In his indwelling presence, the Spirit of God is the life of God manifested in the regenerate soul. This is why Paul says that if we do not have the Spirit of God, then we are “none of his.”
These truths correspond to what Romans 8:13–14 says about the Spirit’s work in mortifying sin. When Christ rose from the dead, he was “justified in the Spirit” (1 Tim. 3:16). The Spirit who declared him righteous now declares believers righteous in Christ because they are united to Christ by faith (Phil. 3:9). But the Father does not only declare us righteous in Christ. The Spirit makes us righteous in practice by conforming us to the image of Christ. Does the Spirit of God who dwelt in Christ dwell in you? Is he directing your life to the Father in obedience to Christ? Obedience is the true mark of the Spirit-filled life.
Christ dwells in believers and manifests his resurrected life in them (Rom. 8:10). He enables the Spirit of life to dwell in them. The indwelling Spirit makes it possible to love and obey God because he unites us to Christ, who is our life (Col. 3:4). We draw spiritual vitality from Christ as branches draw life and bear fruit from the vine (John 15:1ff.).
The Christian’s life in Christ entails death, as well as life. If you are alive in Christ, then “the body is dead because of sin.” Previously you were dead to God and alive to sin (Rom. 7:9, implied). But now, in Christ, you are dead to sin and alive to God (Rom. 6:11). You carry the remnants of sin with you, and they taint everything you do. This is why Question 82 of our Shorter Catechism asserts, “No mere man, since the fall, is able in this life perfectly to keep the commandments of God, but doth daily break them in thought, word, and deed.”
However, the “old man” in you is both dead and dying (Rom. 6:6; Eph. 4:22). This is why Question 35 in the catechism also asserts, “Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.” The old man died when you were united to Christ and when you were relieved from all condemnation. Yet sin remains, and we must put to death and put off the old man and his sinful deeds (Col. 3:5).
The indwelling of Christ corresponds to our being joint heirs with Christ in Romans 8:17. Because the resurrected Christ dwells within believers, they are identified with him in his exaltation and partake of his inheritance. This is why Paul refers to our own resurrection in Christ and the accompanying transformation of our world as eagerly awaiting our adoption (Rom. 8:23).
Does the risen Christ dwell in you? Is the life of the Spirit manifested in you by producing righteousness in you? Do you show this by hating sin for Christ’s sake? The life of Christ in us should lead us to hate the fact that sin is against God more than we hate the consequences of sin against us. Does the life that is in you through the power of God long and strive for conformity to the resurrected Christ, who is both the source and pattern of that life? The mortification of sin and obedience to God’s law are the primary ways that you manifest the life and presence of the glorified Christ in you.
The Father grants life to believers on the basis of Christ’s resurrection (Rom. 8:11). This verse explicitly mentions all three persons of the Godhead. While the Father’s personal name does not appear in the text, Paul refers to the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead.” Paul indicates that the Father raised Christ from the dead. Similarly, Jesus indicates elsewhere that it is the Father who sends the indwelling Spirit to believers in Christ’s name (John 14:26). He sends the Spirit to believers in Christ’s name because the Spirit’s work in believers is secured by, and grounded on, the finished work of Christ.
It is in light of such truths that Paul argues that he who raised Christ from the dead by the Spirit will raise Christ’s people from the dead by the Spirit as well. The same Spirit who breathes spiritual life into our souls at the new birth will breathe physical life into our “mortal bodies” at the resurrection. We benefit from Christ’s resurrection right now through living godly lives. The resurrection of our bodies at the last day will be the final consummation of the benefits we receive from being united to Christ in his resurrection. Life in Christ now will give way to a perfected life in body and soul in glory.
If verses 9–10 in Romans 8 demonstrate the power of the Spirit of Christ, who enables us to live holy lives, then verse 11 provides us with a motive to live in light of his powerful work in us. This is where gratitude comes into holy living and where verses 9–11 receive their complement in verses 12–17, which read:
12 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. 13 For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. 14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. 15 For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father. 16 The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: 17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
The Spirit of him who raised Christ Jesus from the dead (v. 11) corresponds in this passage to the Spirit of adoption dwelling in our hearts, through whom we cry, “Abba, Father” (vv. 15–16). The awareness of adoption that we have in this life in communion with the Spirit will culminate in the full experience and revelation of our adoption in a perfected and resurrected world (vv. 21–23).
Do you not have the highest motives to persevere in a godly life? Does this not furnish you with more than adequate grounds to be assured that if the Spirit of Christ is in you, and if Christ himself is in you, and if the Father will resurrect you, then you can persevere by faith and obedience in fellowship with God? Truly, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (v. 35). Let us persevere joyfully in faith and obedience to Christ, for “he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you” (v. 11).
Not all ministers and churches in the OPC celebrate the holiday known as Easter (myself included among them, in case you are wondering). Leaving off the question of the merits or demerits of observing special days for worship not mandated in Scripture, do we not see that Paul’s teaching on the Trinity in relation to Christ’s resurrection and in relation to the believer highlights the fact that we should not need a holiday to live in light of the resurrection? The power of the triune God in relation to Christ’s resurrection and as applied to us by the Spirit touches every day and every moment of the Christian life, from the new birth to the day of judgment.
We ought to celebrate the resurrection every Lord’s Day, but this should be only the beginning. Even when we remember the Sabbath day, we do so “partly, because of the great benefit of remembering it, we being thereby helped in our preparation to keep it, and, in keeping it, … better to keep all the rest of the commandments, and to continue a thankful remembrance of the two great benefits of creation and redemption, which contain a short abridgment of religion” (Larger Catechism, Q. 121). Our celebration of the Trinity and of Christ’s resurrection on the Lord’s Day should spill over into living godly lives through faith in Christ’s resurrection, as we look in hope to the perfect and final sanctification of our souls and bodies at the last day.
Just as my friend and fellow elder can better appreciate the benefits of living under the sun because he is a solar physicist, so we as Christians ought better to appreciate and to love Christ’s resurrection as we dwell in communion with the Father, through his Son, by his Spirit.
Let us live a holy life to God, by the Spirit, in union with Christ. This is the fruit of Christ’s resurrection and the product of communion with the entire Trinity.
The author is the pastor of First OPC in Sunnyvale, Calif. His Bible quotations come from the KJV. New Horizons, April 2015.