The Spirit in the Epistles, by Witness Lee


Now we come to 1 Corinthians 3. Many expositors acknowledge that this chapter speaks most clearly of the Spirit being the indwelling Spirit. Verse 16 says, “Do you not know that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” Here a question arises: Who is this indwelling Spirit? To get the answer we need to skip over to 6:17, which says, “He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit.” By reading 3:16 and 6:17 together, we will understand that the indwelling Spirit is the Lord Himself. If the indwelling Spirit were not the Lord Himself, how could we be joined to the Lord as one spirit? Hence, these two verses show us that this indwelling Spirit is just the Lord Himself.

First Corinthians 6:17 is a great verse in the Scriptures. Some consider that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16) is the greatest verse in the Bible, but I think it is not as great as 1 Corinthians 6:17. Please consider: what can be greater than the fact that you can be joined to the Lord as one spirit? This verse tells us two great matters: first, the Lord Himself is the Spirit, and second, the Lord and we are joined as one spirit. This being the case, this union must have transpired in our spirit. Otherwise, how could He be joined to us as one spirit? Therefore, this verse shows us that this Christ is the indwelling Spirit and that He as the indwelling Spirit surely must be in our spirit. For this reason the apostle Paul went on to say that if we want to know and experience this Christ, we need to be those who are in spirit. We must be spiritual men instead of soulish men.

At this point, brothers and sisters, I believe that the light is sufficiently clear to us. Beginning from chapter 2, this Epistle is not dealing with division, nor with excommunication due to fornication, nor with lawsuits among brothers, nor with the matter of marriage. Instead, it is speaking about Christ, the God-given portion, who is the indwelling Spirit and who lives now in our spirit. In order to participate in Him, have fellowship with Him, experience Him, and enjoy Him, we need to turn to our spirit. The reason Christians have division is that they are not in the spirit. They live in the flesh, and therefore they are liable to commit fornication and to bring a lawsuit against a brother.


Here I would like to point out another matter. Chapter 3 and chapter 6 of 1 Corinthians also mention the fact that we are the temple. There are clearly three parts to the temple. One part is the outer court, another part is the Holy Place, and yet another part is the Holy of Holies. Please remember, the fleshly man lives in the outer court, the soulish man lives in the Holy Place, and the spiritual man lives in the Holy of Holies. In other words, our spirit is our Holy of Holies. The brother in Corinth who committed such a grave sin of fornication was a fleshly man. In fact, he was not only fleshly but fleshy. The flesh has different degrees of seriousness. Being divisive is of a less serious nature, and one who is divisive is fleshly; whereas, committing fornication is of a more serious nature, and one who commits fornication is fleshy. At any rate, in 1 Corinthians we see three kinds of men: the fleshy and fleshly man, the soulish man, and the spiritual man. If you live in the flesh, you are in the outer court; if you live in the soul, you are in the Holy Place; and if you live in the spirit, you are in the Holy of Holies.

If you read 1 Corinthians carefully, you will be able to see another matter; that is, when the apostle wrote the Epistle, he took the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt and their entrance into Canaan as a background. In 5:7 he said that our Passover, Christ, had been sacrificed. In 10:1-4 he said that “all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank of a spiritual rock which followed them.” This obviously refers to the situation of the children of Israel in the wilderness. Then 10:11 says that the things that happened to the children of Israel were written for our admonition. This tells us that today we are in the wilderness. In chapter 5 we already passed through the Passover and are no longer in Egypt, and in chapter 9 we are in the wilderness. Therefore, it tells us there that we should endeavor to go forward. Where are we going? We are going to Canaan. Then where is today’s Canaan? This Canaan is the Christ in our spirit.

In the church in Corinth there were divisions and lawsuits among brothers. May I ask you, where were the believers who were in that kind of condition? On the one hand, they were in the outer court, and on the other hand, they were in Egypt. Furthermore, there were some who were daily involved with the so-called spiritual gifts. Where were these ones? They were in the soul. They lingered in the Holy Place and remained in the wilderness. Therefore, Paul told them not to wander in the wilderness any longer. The end of chapter 9 says explicitly that we are in a race. We must not stay where we are; rather, we must run and go forward.

The children of Israel in the wilderness were running on a racecourse. Today we are also running on a racecourse. Therefore, we should not linger here but go forward and run until we enter Canaan. We should no longer stay here playing with such gifts as speaking in tongues. God’s goal is not speaking in tongues or any other gifts but Christ. Only Christ is our Canaan. We should not remain in the flesh to dispute with one another, nor should we remain in the soul to pay attention exclusively to the gifts. We need to turn from the flesh to the soul, and then from the soul to the spirit. We need to go from the outer court into the Holy Place, and then from the Holy Place into the Holy of Holies. We need to go from Egypt to the wilderness, and then from the wilderness to Canaan.

Paul wrote the book of 1 Corinthians with two backgrounds. The first background is the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, going through the wilderness, and entering into Canaan. The other background is the temple. Paul clearly told the believers in Corinth that they were the temple. He also said that they had already kept the Passover and had left Egypt, and now they were running in the wilderness. Therefore, he told them to be careful, because if they did not run well, they would fall dead in the wilderness. This means that they would fall dead in the soul and would not be able to enter the spirit to enjoy Christ. Therefore, they needed to go forward, not only overcoming the flesh but also overcoming the soul, and not only being delivered from the flesh but also being delivered from the soul. Not only did they need to refrain from remaining in the flesh, but they also needed to avoid remaining in the soul. Where then were they to go? They needed to go to the spirit to meet Christ there, because Christ is the Canaan which God has prepared for us today.

This matter is neglected by many Christians today. Many Christians do not see that 1 Corinthians presents Christ as our Canaan and as the blessing in the Holy of Holies, and it also reveals that our spirit is the Holy of Holies as well as the good land of Canaan. Today we should not live in our flesh or in our soul but in our spirit. Once we live in our spirit, we touch Christ in our spirit as our Canaan in reality. At such a time, we are spiritual men. Although we still have the flesh, we do not live according to the flesh; the flesh becomes insignificant to us. Although we are persons with a soul, it is in subjection to us, and we do not live according to it. Although we are persons who still have the flesh and the soul, we live in the spirit and according to the spirit. Therefore, we and Christ are joined as one spirit. What people see in us is a condition of being one spirit. He is a Spirit, and He is also in our spirit. The two spirits, our spirit and He as the Spirit, are joined together. This is the living in the land of Canaan, and this is the living in the Holy of Holies.

(The Spirit in the Epistles, Chapter 16, by Witness Lee)