But We Are Not in the Flesh
Paul continues speaking of being in the flesh and being in the Spirit, living according to the flesh and living according to the Spirit, setting one’s mind on things of the flesh and setting one’s mind on things of the Spirit. And there is no question but that these are completely contrary categories, flesh and Spirit. By “flesh,” Paul means our sinful nature as it is enticed by means of the world; it includes everything that is not of God. By “Spirit,” Paul means minding the things of the Spirit of God, heavenly things, things having to do with goodness, truth, and beauty as God created them. Paul made it clear in the previous passage that believers follow the Spirit and unbelievers the flesh.
And he capitalizes on that same teaching now as a means to encourage these Roman Christians: “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit.” Granted, Paul continues, “if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.” But there again he is contrasting two groups of people who are completely different in God’s eyes: those who have believed in Him through faith in His Son and those who have not. There lies no in between. But he is sure that these Romans are living in the Spirit. The next phrase, “But if Christ is in you,” expresses not doubt but simply states the case.
And as people who are in Christ, our bodies indeed are dead because of sin in the sense that they will one day die (they are dying now), but we live because of the Spirit who lives in us. (Incidentally, please note how easily Paul moves from speaking of the Spirit of God living in us to the Spirit of Christ living in us to Christ living in us and back to the Spirit living in us. Christ and the Spirit are not the same, but as one God acting in the world, work together in our salvation such that we are inhabited by all three; Christ speaks of himself being in us and the Father being in him, John 17:23). And though our bodies are good as dead because of sin, God does not leave them in the grave but promises that the Spirit who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also “give life to [our] mortal bodies” on the last day by virtue of the very fact that he resides within us.
And so this is the assurance of the believer: that he is indwelt by the Holy Spirit who makes his presence felt within him by comfort or conviction, by calling us to prayer and praying himself within us (8:26), and by urging us to godliness. Indeed, walking by the Spirit is the believer’s only peace.