Living in the Spirit, by Witness Lee


The first Epistle of John may seem like a shallow book, a book that is not very deep. Actually, the first Epistle of John is one of the most mysterious books in the Bible. It says that we can abide in the Lord, which is truly something mysterious. It also says that there is something within us that “has been begotten of God” (5:4a). The Gospel of John shows us what this is. John 3:6 says, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” What is this thing that has been begotten of God? It is the regenerated spirit within us. The spirit in us is that which has been born of God. There is only one thing in the whole universe that has been begotten of God. It is in you, it is in me, and it is in every believer in the Lord. The word for everything used in 1 John 5:4 was chosen very carefully. It is important to properly translate this Greek word as everything. Without this verse we simply cannot understand the first Epistle of John. I read 1 John 3:9 for decades without knowing why it says that everyone who is begotten of God does not sin. I did not understand this, because although we have been born of God, according to our experience we still commit sins.

In modern Christianity there is a school of thought that teaches the eradication of sin. Those who teach this say that once a person believes in the Lord, sin is eradicated from him. They base this teaching on 1 John 3:9, which says, “Everyone who has been begotten of God does not practice sin,…and he cannot sin.” Therefore, they say that once you are born of God, sin is eradicated from you, so you cannot sin anymore. Forty years ago in Shanghai there was an elderly man who adhered to this school of thought. He spoke about regeneration in a very strong way, telling people that they had to be born again. However, he also told people that once they were regenerated, sin was eradicated from them, and they could no longer sin. One day he took four young people to a park. Tickets were required to enter the park, yet that elderly man bought only two tickets. Two of the young men entered the park using the two tickets. Then one of the two came out with the tickets and then entered the park again with another young man. This was repeated until all five people had entered the park using the same two tickets. One of the young men related this incident to me. When he saw this situation, he was perplexed, wondering how it could be right to buy only two tickets and bring five people into the park. He asked himself, “What is this?” After they returned, he asked the elderly man, “Has not sin been eradicated from us? Then how could we use only two tickets to bring five people into the park?” The elderly man replied, “This is not a sin. It is merely a weakness.”

Whether it is a sin or a weakness, neither is good. After a person has been saved through regeneration, experientially speaking, he still can sin. Even 1 John says that to this day we still have the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the vainglory of life (2:16). Why is it then that chapter three says, “Everyone who has been begotten of God does not practice sin” (v. 9)? For many years we were unclear about this matter.

One day as I was reading 1 John and studying the Greek text, I came to verse 4 of chapter five, which says, “Everything that has been begotten of God overcomes the world.” It was then that the light came, and suddenly I was able to understand what was once unclear to me. The word everything refers to every person who has been begotten of God. Such an expression, however, refers especially to the part within a person that has been regenerated with the divine life, that is, the spirit of a regenerated person. The regenerated spirit of a believer does not practice sin (3:9), and it overcomes the world. The only thing in the universe that has been begotten of God is our spirit. Our flesh and our soul, including our mind, emotion, and will, were not begotten of God. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). No one can deny that the spirit in us has been begotten of God. Eventually, after checking with our experience, we must say amen to this word. Our flesh can sin, as well as our mind, but our regenerated spirit cannot practice sin. In fact, while our flesh is sinning, our regenerated spirit continually warns us, “Do not sin! Do not sin!” The spirit always admonishes us. When we go along with our lust and go to see a movie, the spirit within us may say, “Go home! Do not watch anymore!” After we were saved, we found that there was something that always bothered us and gave us no peace. That was the regenerated spirit in us. Our regenerated spirit constantly bothers us. There is only one piece of land in this universe that is still clean, that has been reserved by God, and that does not have Satan’s footprints on it. This piece of land is our regenerated spirit.

Regardless of how much the sisters love the world and its fashion, and regardless of how much they love to make themselves look pretty, their spirit will often speak from within, “Forget about all these things! Do not do all these meaningless things! Why do you spend so much time on these things?” We all have had this kind of experience. A strong sister may suffer a great temptation, and as a result, simply ignore the feeling in her spirit. She might say, “I do not care. Anyway, one day I will go to heaven. I do not believe that I will go to hell just for trying to make myself pretty. I am a young lady. I should not make myself look like an old woman.” However, her spirit will still say to her, “It is useless to argue. Do not do this anymore! You will make the Lord unhappy.” She will sense there is something within her that will not let her go.

In a way, I do not care whether we have overcome or failed. I hope we would all realize that there is something in us that has been begotten of God—our spirit. We may be in the worst place in the world, but our spirit will still say, “Get out of here! Stop fooling around here! How meaningless this is!” We may say that this is the Lord Jesus speaking to us. However, where is He when He speaks to us? He speaks to us not in our mind or in our emotions but in our regenerated spirit. Everything that has been begotten of God overcomes the world.

Furthermore, 1 John 5:18 says, “He who has been begotten of God keeps himself.” As regenerated believers we have been begotten of God specifically in our spirit. Thus, our regenerated spirit, as that which has been begotten of God, keeps us from sinning. We all can testify that many times we have been kept by this spirit which has been begotten of God. Many Christians have had such experiences. Perhaps while you were on your way to a movie theater, something within you said, “Go home! What are you coming here for?” After you entered the theater, something within said again, “Go home!” Eventually, you had to say, “Forget about this!” Thus, you went home. Who kept you? Who brought you back home? It was the regenerated spirit within you that kept you. We are all vile sinners and are all capable of committing gross sins, yet all these years we have been kept. This is because our regenerated spirit has kept us. Within us we have something that has been regenerated, something that has been begotten of God. This something is our spirit.

What is within this spirit? God Himself is in it. First John 3:9 says that it is God’s seed, that is, God Himself and Christ Himself. This is a very mysterious matter. In our regenerated spirit is God Himself and Christ Himself as our seed. All we need to do is to abide in our regenerated spirit and to live and walk in our spirit. First John tells us that we have something that has been regenerated. We have God’s seed in our regenerated spirit. Thus, we need to abide in our regenerated spirit. If we do, then we are of God.

(Living in the Spirit, Chapter 5, by Witness Lee)