The Spirit in the Epistles, by Witness Lee




Do you think that the Scripture says in vain: “The Spirit, whom He has caused to dwell in us, longs to envy”? (James 4:5)

Bible readers have had many arguments about this verse in James. Some think that the entire verse is one sentence, while others maintain that it is composed of two sentences, as shown in the following rendering: “Think ye that the scripture speaketh in vain? Doth the spirit which he made to dwell in us long unto envying?” (ASV). According to the thought of the entire book and the immediate context, we believe that it is one sentence, as shown in the quotation above. The Spirit who dwells in us longs for us to love God and to turn toward Him to such an extent that He has an envying heart inside us. The four preceding verses tell us that as corrupted men, we easily incline toward the world, love the world, and become joined to the world until we have an illicit union with the world and become adulteresses before God. However, the Spirit of God who indwells us longs for us to love God and be single-heartedly focused on Him. This longing causes Him even to envy over us. The meaning of this envying is like that spoken of in Exodus 20, which says that God is a jealous God. Jealous there means “envious.” God is a God of envy. In 2 Corinthians 11 the apostle Paul says the same thing: “I am jealous over you with a jealousy of God; for I betrothed you to one husband to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I fear lest somehow...your thoughts would be corrupted from the simplicity and the purity toward Christ” (vv. 2-3). This portion also says that God has a jealous heart, an envying heart, toward us because He wants us to be solely for Him and to turn toward Him. He does not want us to have any other love apart from Him, just as a husband desires his wife to love him and wants his wife to be only for him.

The book of James talks about how we should have a godly living, a God-like living. In such a living, the first requirement is that we love God absolutely just as a wife loves her husband absolutely. The husband’s unique desire with respect to his wife is that she would be absolutely for him. If the wife has any love other than her husband, that will stir up his jealousy. The indwelling Spirit of life in us is the jealous God. He will not permit or allow us to have any love apart from Him. If we have any love apart from Him, it will arouse His jealousy. Thus, James 4:5 says that the Spirit, whom God has caused to dwell in us, longs to envy.

“Do you think that the Scripture says in vain?” Where was this word spoken in the Old Testament? You cannot find it anywhere in the Old Testament, but the entire Old Testament definitely reveals such a thought. For example, the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea contain this thought. These four books give us a deep feeling that God is the Husband to the children of Israel. In these four books, God tells the children of Israel that they were wedded to Him as a wife, but they were not faithful to Him. His love toward them was a jealous love. The general summary of these four books is that God longs for us to the extent of being envious.

We know this from our experience also. The indwelling Holy Spirit in us longs for us to love the Lord, to be for the Lord, and to pursue the Lord. When we love someone or something apart from the Lord, we can feel that in the deepest part of our being there is a story of envy, a story of jealousy. That is the story of the indwelling Holy Spirit longing to envy. Therefore, the indwelling Spirit referred to in James can be called the Spirit of envy.

This book has another verse which speaks of the opposite aspect of the Spirit. Verse 15 of chapter 3 says, “This wisdom is not that which descends from above, but is earthly, soulish, demonic.” You see that soulish is connected to earthly and demonic. Therefore, we must know that whenever we are living in the soul, we are joined to the earth and connected to demons. It says here that this kind of wisdom causes us to have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition and is not the wisdom that descends from above, but is earthly, soulish, demonic. If we do not live in the spirit, we are living in the soul. The soulish man, however, is earthly and demonic. This is a very serious matter.


First Peter has more references to the indwelling Spirit.

The Sanctifying Spirit

Chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father in the sanctification of the Spirit unto the obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied. (1:2)

We have a story inside us, which is the story of sanctification. This story of sanctification is the work of the Holy One, the Spirit, in our spirit to separate us, to make us holy. Thus, the sanctification of the Spirit is the work of the Spirit of God, the Holy One, in our spirit to continually separate us from all things that are opposed to God and to continually work the element of God into us, enabling us to become holy. In the sanctification of the Spirit we are able to obey the Lord.

The Spirit of Christ

Concerning this salvation the prophets, who prophesied concerning the grace that was to come unto you, sought and searched diligently, searching into what time or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ in them was making clear. (vv. 10-11)

Prophets here refers to the Old Testament prophets. You might ask, how could the Spirit of Christ be in the Old Testament? We need to add a word of explanation here. According to what we have said in the past, first there was the Spirit of God, then the Spirit of Jesus, and finally the Spirit of Christ; this is with regard to His process. But in another aspect, this Spirit is also timeless, just as the cross is. The crucifixion was accomplished two thousand years ago, but its efficacy is eternal, not being subject to time. In the same way, according to the process of completion, this Spirit was originally the Spirit of God; at the time of the incarnation He was the Holy Spirit, that is, “the Spirit the Holy”; and after passing through death and resurrection, He is the life-giving Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus Christ. According to His efficacy, however, He is the eternal Spirit. Therefore, even in the Old Testament, the Spirit of Christ was in the prophets to enable them to understand the prophecies concerning Christ. The Spirit of Christ testified beforehand to the prophets, making clear to them the time and the manner of time concerning the sufferings and glories of Christ.

(The Spirit in the Epistles, Chapter 11, by Witness Lee)