The Spirit in the Epistles, by Witness Lee


Now let us come to 1 and 2 Thessalonians. The Spirit in 1 and 2 Thessalonians is the Spirit of sanctification. Brothers and sisters, I hope that you can see that the general subject of the New Testament Epistles is the life-giving Spirit. In Romans, this life-giving Spirit as the Spirit of sonship is conforming us to the image of God’s Son. In 1 Corinthians, as the building Spirit He is building all of us together into one Body. In 2 Corinthians, as the transforming Spirit He is transforming us, who were previously men of dust, into gold, silver, and precious stones for the building. In Galatians, as the Spirit for our living He enables us to live by Christ and live out Christ. In Philippians, He is the One who enables us to experience Christ in our practical living, to experience Christ in every situation and in every matter, and to experience Christ with respect to situations, sinners, saints, and God. In 1 and 2 Thessalonians, He is the Spirit of sanctification. He preaches the gospel to us and leads us to receive it, and then He comes into us as the Spirit of sanctification who constantly sanctifies us, preparing us to receive the coming Christ. We are in the process of sanctification, waiting for Him to sanctify us.


Holiness—Deliverance from Sin

The progression of God’s recovery of the matter of sanctification is as follows: After the Reformation with Luther, there was quite a long period of time in which the church did not pay attention to this matter. It was not until the eighteenth century that John Wesley and his companions began to stress the matter of holiness. However, they can be considered to have recovered only the term holiness but not the reality of holiness. Actually, they recovered something erroneous. The holiness taught by John Wesley and his co-workers was one which required people to live a life of sinless perfection. Because of the influence of this teaching, some in Christianity have the concept that to be holy is to be sinless or to overcome sin; if one can overcome sin and be perfect, then one is considered holy.

Later, under this influence several groups emerged. For example, in the West there are various Wesleyan or Methodist churches which were produced from the teachings of John Wesley. They teach the doctrine of holiness, which is to behave properly without mistakes, as taught by John Wesley. The word Methodist, derived from the English word method, denotes one whose behavior is proper, regulated, orderly, or one who behaves with decorum, observing all rules and regulations. This is the holiness they teach. From this, the Church of the Nazarene also emerged, and we may say that it strictly follows the teachings of John Wesley. Many people think that most of the Christian women in America curl their hair, wear make-up, and are very fashionable. In actuality, I can tell you that in the Church of the Nazarene in America the women are very proper, and avoid make-up and fashionable clothes. That is their holiness. Mrs. Cowman, who wrote the book Streams in the Desert, and her husband founded the Far East Missionary Society and worked mostly in Japan. They mainly did the work of helping people to be holy. Thus, the church established by the Far East Missionary Society in Japan is called the Holiness Church. This Holiness Church spread through Japan and came to Taiwan, where it was called the Holy Church. Both the Holy Church in Taiwan and the Holiness Church in Japan were brought in through the work of the Far East Missionary Society, which mainly preached the holiness as taught by John Wesley.

Positional Sanctification—Being Separated

After one century, in 1828, the British Brethren were raised up. The British Brethren represent a huge recovery in the matters of the truth and the study of the Scriptures. From the Scriptures they learned that the meaning of the word holiness does not emphasize purity but separation. They pointed out that the sanctification referred to in many passages in the Bible has no bearing on being without sin or without evil. Rather, it is mostly related to being separated. For example, in Matthew 23 the Lord Jesus said that the temple could sanctify the gold (v. 17). The gold had originally been kept in the shops or at home, so it was common and not holy, but when the gold was brought into the temple, the temple sanctified the gold. If holiness denotes being sinless, then does the gold in the shops have sins? By this we can see there is no thought of sin here. Thus, to be sanctified is to be separated; whatever is separated unto God is sanctified. The Lord Jesus also said that the altar sanctifies the bulls and sheep sacrificed upon it (v. 18). Originally, a bull or a sheep was in its herd or in its flock and was common, not holy; however, now it has been separated out and offered up upon the altar. The altar separates and sanctifies it. Can the bull or the sheep have sins? They cannot. They are common but do not necessarily have sins. Furthermore, in 1 Timothy 4 Paul says that the food we eat is sanctified through intercession. Can milk and bread have sins? They cannot; however, when milk and bread are on the table, they are common if they have not passed through the Christians’ prayers. After having passed through the Christians’ prayers, the milk and bread are separated, sanctified.

(The Spirit in the Epistles, Chapter 8, by Witness Lee)