Can you be "included," in Christ, yet not "have the Spirit"?

In Rom. 8:9, Paul writes: "If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ." How does this statement square with many biblical statements that testify to the present inclusion of ALL humanity in God's love and life through the representative - substitutionary (vicarious) humanity of Jesus? Also, what does Paul mean by "have" the Spirit? And, can a person be included in Jesus, yet not "have the Spirit"?

The reality presented in Scripture (and I am indebted here to helpful comments from Dr. Joseph Tkach and Dr. Gary Deddo), is that the Spirit is always working with everyone (believers and non-believers alike). However, it is believers who are both aware of and receptive to the Spirit's work. While all people have been reconciled to the Father through Jesus' vicarious humanity, not all believe - and thus not all actively participate in God's new creation of humanity in Jesus.

Thus there is a difference between believers (those who embrace their inclusion in Jesus) and those who have yet to do embrace what they have already been given. So when Paul says, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ,” we understand him to mean that though all are included (loved, forgiven and accepted by the Father), not all believe this, and thus not all actively participate in the life that is theirs with God, in Christ.

Paul tells us in Rom. 5:10 that we were reconciled to God "when we were God's enemies" - not when we "turned to God" in belief. Reconciliation on God's part toward us occurred prior to any personal response. In Adam, all humans were God’s enemies, but now through Jesus' life, death, resurrection, ascension and his pouring out of the Spirit on all flesh, all humans are included in Jesus (the last Adam) and are thus no longer God’s enemies; no longer condemned; but reconciled; forgiven; accepted; and unconditionally loved as God's dear children. That is the gospel (the good news).

In Rom. 9, Paul exhorts believers (those who embrace God's reconciling work, in Jesus, on their behalf) to actively, through the Spirit, participate in their reconciliation (inclusion) in Christ. This is what Paul means when he writes of "walking in the Spirit." All are included, but not all walk in the Spirit. In that sense, not all “have” the Spirit - it is not the defining, dominant reality of their lives. Indeed, to "belong to Christ" is to believe, receive, and through the Spirit, actively participate in Christ's continuing human life.

But note: we can't share what we don’t already have. Our belief (faith and repentance) does not create our reconciliation (our inclusion; also referred to by Paul as our "adoption") - it does not create our true identity as God’s children. Rather, we believe because we are already included/adopted. Through belief, we come alive to what is already true. Like the prodigal son, we turn our hearts to the home we already have with the father who already loves and accepts us.

Note also that no one is able to declare that Jesus is Lord, except by the Spirit that draws them to the Son. Thus personal belief is, itself, a sign of the Spirit's presence with, and work in, that person prior to their belief. Then as a believer responds to the Spirit's work, there are deeper "fillings" of the Spirit in their life of growth in Christ. This filling is not some sort of mechanical, automatic, cause-and-effect process - indeed it is part of a dynamic, ongoing relationship with God, made possible for us by Jesus as, in the Spirit, he shares with us his transformed humanity. Jesus opened the door for all of us to be indwelt by his very Spirit.


Thanks! I think this subject is worthy of our careful thought and elaboration! It brings up good Gospel food for thought! For further exploration and thoughts on the same subject, check out this interesting post on Dr. Baxter Kruger's blog at:

I found it very helpful and insightful, too!
Thom Friedrich said…

Thank you for sharing your continuing insight. It really helps me to grasp the all-encompassing work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers and "yet-to-be" believers.

Can you please explain for me, in light of this understanding, what might King David have been referring to when he prayed to God, "Please do not take your Holy Spirit from me"?

Also, in Numbers 11, where God states that he will take of the Spirit he gave to Moses and give it to the elders of Israel, is he really just stating that he will awaken their awareness of the Spirit already at work in them?

Ted Johnston said…
Thanks Tim and Thom for your comments.

Thom, you inquired concerning the meaning of David's prayer of repentance to God when he said, "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me" (Psa 51:10-11).

We note that this prayer was given before Jesus' incarnate life, death, resurrection, ascension and the pouring out of the Spirit on all flesh that followed at Pentecost. Prior to that time, all humans existed (as they still do) "in God." Thus all humans before the incarnation "live and move and have their being" in God just as they do now. But with the Christ event, there is a new relationship of the Spirit with all humanity through the vicarious humanity of Jesus.

David is not talking about that relationship of the Spirit with humanity. Rather, it is likely that he is speaking of the way God sent the Spirit to "anoint" certain ones for special God-ordained roles as in the case of the prophets and the kings (like David).

David is likely concerned that he had disqualified himself for serving as king through his acts of adultery and murder - both in defiance of God's will for him.

For God to remove the Spirit from David would thus mean removing him from the throne - synonymous here with "casting" David from God's "presence."
Ted Johnston said…
Following is a comment on this post from George Hart.

Ted: Great response but I thought your last paragraph blurred some lines that, in my mind, need some clarification and distinction. 

The work of the Spirit, although it is not separate from Christ, is a distinct work of Christ by and through the Spirit. The work of Christ in the incarnation, death, resurrection and ascension is distinct from what Christ is doing today through the Spirit. It is a distinct work that has been going on for 2000 years since the day of Pentecost. I understand that we have to be cautious in separating the Spirit’s work from Christ and somehow seeing it as a separate work, but it is also important to see it as a distinct work of Christ by and through the Spirit. 

As you clearly pointed out, we cannot undo what Christ did for all of humanity through his incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension. That part or aspect of the work of Christ is finished and can never be undone. That part of Christ work is automatic and not a cause-and-effect process. But the work of Christ in the “filling of the Spirit” is not automatic and is very much a cause-and-effect process.   

Again as you pointed out, it is a “dynamic relationship.” And it is a dynamic relationship between two people, me and God.  Any true dynamic relationship is not automatic and is very much a cause-and-effect process. That relationship is made possible for us by Jesus finished work and forever remains open to us by his faithfulness. But I actually get to choose how and where I want to spend eternity, beginning with the choices I make today and every day.  My “yes” to his “yes,” actually has a consequence, or my “no” to his “yes” actually has a consequence. My “yes” or “no” does not undo what Christ has finished but it does have an impact on what is not yet finished. 

My choices have eternal consequences. As Dallas Willard says, “We actually get to choose where we want to spend eternity.”  I can determine where I want to spend eternity by my “yes” or “no,” and I can determine, in the context of my life, the extent to which I’m open to the “fillings” of the Spirit, and the extent to which my life is transformed. There are things that I can do and must do that make me more receptive, responsive and open to the Spirit’s presence, working and transformation. That is the unfinished work of the Spirit that is very much a cause-and-effect process, but having its foundation in the finished work of Christ.  This is where I think we need to make some distinctions.    

This brings me to the questions that I have been asking: “What are the things that open me to the fillings of the Spirit?” “What are the historical practices of the church that make one more receptive and responsive to the Spirit’s working?” “How do I participate with the Jesus (the Spirit)?” “How do I walk in the Spirit?” “How do I follow the lead of the Spirit?”  “How does real substantive transformation take place in one’s life?”  These questions need to be asked from both a personal as well as a corporate perspective. 

In response to the question regarding David’s request that God not take his Spirit from him, there is an element of this that is part of the dynamic personal relationship between God and David. Often times because of sin we will “distance” ourselves from God in that we lose an awareness of God’s presence in our lives. And there are times when God will “remove” himself or “withdraw” from our presence for a particular reason that has nothing to do with our sin, but for his eternal working in our life. God never actually takes his Holy Spirit from us because the Spirit’s presence is based upon the finished work of Christ, but we lose the sense or awareness of God’s presence. There is great deal written about this in church history.  It is part of the personal dynamics of living out a real relationship with God in time and space. 

Ted Johnston said…

Thanks for your insightful comment on the last paragraph of my post, which reads:

"...As a believer responds to the Spirit's work, there are deeper 'fillings' of the Spirit in their life of growth in Christ. This filling is not some sort of mechanical, automatic, cause-and-effect process - indeed it is part of a dynamic, ongoing relationship with God, made possible for us by Jesus as, in the Spirit, he shares with us his transformed humanity."

You take exception to my assertion that this on-going relationship is NOT "cause-and-effect." You note that there are, indeed, causes (our actions) that lead to effects (God's response). And you cite the spiritual disciplines as an example.

I think our difference here is semantic, not conceptual. By saying our relationship with God is not "cause and effect" I mean it is not "mechanical" - this is to emphasize that it is a REAL relationship.

It is not a "one-size-fits-all" religion where every "effect" from God originates in a prescribed "cause" (action) from us.

But from your perspective (with which I agree), this relationship is (as a real relationship) two-way. What we do (and believe) matters. And thus our practice of spiritual disciplines matters for it places us actively into the flow of a dynamic relationship with God which, itself, is "located" in the divine-human relationship in the person of Jesus.

I would love to hear more from you on this issue of the place of spiritual disciplines in the context of a trinitarian, Christ-centered theology.
Ted Johnston said…
The following comment is from Jim Valekis:

George, I appreciate your questions. I'm with you - I look forward to plumbing the depths of what it means to participate with Jesus together. And I think tapping into the this subject holds a key.