What does a Christian look like? How would we describe one? Paul’s words regarding the present of a Christian are, ‘But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.’ Paul is saying that in this life it is not part of the work of the Spirit to give life to our bodies.
Perhaps some people were assuming that the indwelling of the Spirit of life would change their physical abilities in this life. Instead, says Paul, even although it belongs to Jesus, it remains under the influence of death because of our sins. We all know that we are going to die unless Jesus returns and prevents that from happening.
Yet Paul does not leave the matter there. Although our bodies are under the influence of death, something else is also taking place through the work of the Spirit and that is that he is giving spiritual life to our souls. The teaching here is similar to what he says in 2 Corinthians 4:16: ‘Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.’ That life was given at regeneration and cannot be taken away because the Spirit is permanently present in the heart of every believer.
What righteousness does Paul say is the reason why the Spirit is resident in the inner life of the believer? It cannot be a reference to their practical righteousness because it is the consequence of his work. Therefore, it must be a reference to another righteousness. Two options are possible. One is the overall salvation planned by God, which is described as the righteousness of God. If that is the meaning, then Paul may be saying that the work of the Spirit is part of God’s great salvation. The other option is that Paul is referring to the righteousness of Jesus that is imputed to believers when they believe in him, and which opens the way for the Holy Spirit to come and indwell them.
Whichever view is right, it is important that we grasp the point that signs of death in our physical bodies are not evidences that we do not have the Spirit. Instead we have to remind ourselves that the redemption of the body is future.